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Plenty of Life Left in the Shrinking Home PC Market

Sales of personal computers for home and personal use have dwindled in recent years, ed while tablets, phones and other alternatives gain in popularity. Does the PC still have a place?

PC Business device usersThe home PC has traveled a long distance, from being a basic computing device that few individuals could afford, to becoming a useful gadget that gradually became more affordable, thus finding its way into many homes, some of which, even today, have more than one PC.

 

Not everyone today aspires to own a PC, however, because there are less expensive, more portable alternatives available that enable access to email, social media, shopping, and surfing the Web. Consequently, some PC manufacturers have cut back on production. On the other hand, smartphone and tablet users have proliferated, and vendors are competing with each other to develop more functional and convenient mobile devices.

 

Both Gartner and IDC have reported a slump in PC sales. According to Gartner, PC sales will continue to fall in 2016. However, the increasing popularity of smartphones, phablets, and two-in-ones is not the only reason for falling PC sales.

 

High-end desktops and laptops available these days are not just powerful, they are robust, and last longer than earlier models. Users of high-grade PCs don’t need to replace their machines as frequently as before; they are comfortable using them for 5 or 6 years. According to ZDNET, “PCs have reached the point where they're powerful enough to last longer than ever”.

 

As more people rely on tablets and smartphones for home and personal computer tasks, are we seeing the end of home PC culture?

When the PC first entered our homes decades ago, Internet connectivity was not ubiquitous as it is today. Users couldn’t get online and communicate via the internet with their home PCs. Things didn’t stay that way for long, however, because technology was moving fast. By the beginning of the 21st century, home users in some countries were able to connect to the Internet using dial-up connections.

 

Today, high-speed connectivity is the norm, with people in the workplace, in public places, and at home having broadband access. Rapid advances in technology have now made it possible for people to access the Internet without a desktop or laptop computer.

 

Whereas those who use the Internet to communicate via email or social media, to surf, and to shop online can do so using a smartphone, phablet, or tablet, students, content creators, video-editors, serious gamers, IT professionals, and others need a desktop or laptop because the smaller portable devices still lack the capability of the PC.

 

A fall in PC sales doesn’t necessarily mean that PCs are disappearing from our homes altogether. Many homes already have at least one PC, and some users probably don’t need to go out and buy another one because the one they have is working fine. Some of these people might buy a hand-held device for convenience and occasional use, but not as a replacement.

 

Who still uses PCs in the home and what are they used for?

Because PCs are still the most powerful computers available to home users, those who need processing power, memory, multimedia capability, and local storage capacity will continue using desktops and laptops until a viable alternative emerges.

 

Among those unlikely to dump their desktops or laptops anytime soon are those who need advanced functionality, power, and capacity, and also prefer larger screens and physical keyboards. They tend to be people who work at their computers for hours at a stretch, day after day. They are, in growing numbers, software developers, graphic designers, animators, video professionals, writers, and others who move their mouse and type away on their keyboards, all the while viewing their work take shape on the screen. It’s hard to imagine a writer, for instance, working for hours at a time on a smartphone or tablet held in her palm.

 

PC Kid uses desktop at homeSerious gamers also prefer advanced desktops for their processing speed and sophisticated graphics capability. An encouraging trend in the PC market is the increasing popularity of PC gaming. The gaming market, which has been dominated by video game consoles, is now shifting. According to an IDC forecast, the market for digital PC and Mac games is expected to grow until 2017. The research firm expects the non-US market to grow at 5 percent annually over the period 2012 – 2017.

 

According to a CNET article, PwC has reported that PC games are expected to outsell console games. PwC predicts that PC game sales will likely touch $29 billion globally in 2016, whereas the corresponding figure for console games is expected to be $28 billion. The report refers to the Indian and Chinese gaming markets, which are dominated by PC games, and to the rising popularity of e-sports as factors influencing the growth in PC games sales.

 

Are home users more likely in 2015 (and beyond) to use desktop and laptop computers for anything that they can't do with a tablet or phone and the right app?

Given the current reality that a tablet, phablet, or smartphone is cheaper and far more portable than a laptop, those who use a device to communicate, socialize, surf, and shop can be expected to use light portable devices rather than a laptop or desktop.

 

According to an article in CNET, the demand for two-in-one devices, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, which combine the portability of a tablet with a degree of laptop capability, is growing. Powered by Intel Core M chips, these devices are capable of faster processing speeds than conventional tablets and phablets. Folding or clip-on keyboards make these hybrids thinner and easier to carry around than laptops, while offering users the convenience of a traditional keyboard.

 

Two-in-one devices appeal to users looking for more power and functionality than the standard smartphone or tablet can offer, but who don’t need high-powered laptop or desktop capability. Since these are cheaper than mid-range laptops, they’re expected to become the device of choice for those looking for something between a tablet and a powerful PC.

 

A good many home users, however, belong to the home-office segment — multimedia professionals, graphic designers, writers, IT professionals, and the like. People who develop software, and create and edit content, need heavy-duty machines that are capable of running multiple apps simultaneously and of storing large amounts of data. For self-employed professionals who work from home, the two-in-one is unlikely to replace the PC at present.

 

Are even laptops gradually fading from home and personal use?

Because smartphones, tablets, phablets, and two-in-ones are thinner, smaller, and available at lower prices than standard laptops, they have replaced laptops as the device of choice for users whose online experience is limited to email, social media, surfing, and shopping. The Internet is the prime reason for the jump in sales of personal computing devices, and many have bought one for the first time just to be able to get online whenever they wish, whether to communicate, shop, or surf. People who use devices for communication or entertainment are by and large fine with smartphones, tablets, and phablets.

 

Laptops are not as widely used as before, but they’re unlikely to disappear from the home environment. Home-based professionals who develop software, analyse data, or create content need devices with high processing power, ample disk space, and memory. This is a growing segment, considering the fact that the number of people working from home is increasing. College students who sometimes process pages of content still prefer a laptop or desktop.

 

Why the switch?

For anyone who needs a gadget primarily to communicate and access the Internet, a hand-held device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or phablet is fine. Users in this category don’t need a bigger and more expensive computer.

 

PC Office pro using desktopThen there are users who for the most part watch videos and play games, such as Candy Crush and Farmville, on their devices. Earlier smartphones were relatively small, and the size of the screen might have hampered the user’s experience. Today, there are phablets, such as the Apple iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note line of devices, which have larger screens that offer users a superior viewing experience.

 

Given the fact that hand-held devices offer benefits, such as touchscreen capability, easy portability, and price, it’s no surprise that users who don’t need high-speed processing power, storage capability, and memory are opting to use smartphones, phablets, and two-in-ones.

 

Also, mobile-friendly software, such as Microsoft Word, which now works on smartphones, has made it possible for users with basic document-editing needs to rely solely on mobile gadgets.

 

What do tablets and smartphones (and laptops) have going for them that a desktop PC can't provide?

The key benefit that laptops, two-in-ones, phablets, tablets, and smartphones offer the user is portability. A desktop is obviously no match here; no one can carry a desktop everywhere they go. And, more and more people these days either need or like to take their computing devices wherever they go.

 

Price is another factor in favour of smartphones, tablets, phablets, and low-end laptops.

 

What does the future look like?

Though the PC has lost market share to portable computing devices, it holds its ground in the home-office and, to some extent, in the multimedia space. As smartphone, tablet, and phablet vendors keep improving on functionality, these relatively cheaper hand-held devices will make deeper inroads into PC territory.

 

Demand for the PC, though, is unlikely to die out in the near future because hand-held devices are as yet incapable of fulfilling every user’s needs. Mobile gadgets also come with a higher security risk because they are easily misplaced or stolen. A theft or loss could result in personal as well as professional data being compromised.

 

The desktop and laptop may someday disappear from our homes, but only when an equally, if not more, powerful, robust, reliable, and comfortable alternative emerges. Until then home-based professionals, serious gamers, multimedia enthusiasts, and students will continue to rely on desktops or laptops.

 


Reena GhoshABOUT THE AUTHOR

Reena Ghosh is an independent ghostwriter who writes promotional, developmental and explanatory content for individuals and businesses. She came to professional writing with work experience in financial services operations and corporate communication. Reena speaks three languages and hopes to learn Sanskrit.