We’re a little over a week away from a big Apple launch event, which always seems to drum up talk about the so-called “post-PC era” we’re in. It is no secret that the overall PC market has taken a pummeling the last couple of years, but just because tablets and smartphones have taken up large portions of technology budgets as of late (in both the enterprise and consumer spaces), doesn’t mean PCs are going to disappear.
I’m writing this piece from the perspective of a long-time PC enthusiast, which obviously shapes my point of view, but let me back things up with a few numbers. Roughly 75.7 million PCs were shipped in the second quarter of this year alone, a slight increase year over year according to Gartner. In one of its recent announcements, Gartner said, “The PC market’s installed based has been declining as buyers switched to tablets and smartphones for entertainment and social media consumption. The 2Q14 results suggest that the consumer installed base restructuring peaked during 2013. We are seeing a slowdown in premium tablet sales, which have already penetrated a large number of households. PCs are now growing off a smaller installed base of newer devices, with more engaged users. Therefore, we expect to see slow, but consistent, PC growth.” HP, Dell, Asus, Lenovo all showed increased shipments for the same timeframe year over year.
Garner’s prediction for PC growth seems to be reflected in recent statements made by Best Buy’s CEO as well. In a recent interview, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly said that tablet sales were crashing, while PC sales were growing. Of course, what Best Buy has seen recently could be an aberration, but it seems as if tablets and smartphones have hit a saturation point and consumers aren’t chomping at the bit as feverishly for the latest devices any longer. My own experience is similar. A couple of years ago, I jumped on virtually every new smartphone release. But since settling in with a Galaxy Note 3, the desire to upgrade for incremental improvements has waned. I did ultimately switch to a Nokia Lumia 1520 because I prefer some of its features and software, but I keep the Note 3 around for casual games that are not available on the Windows Phone marketplace. Smartphones and tablets are still selling in huge numbers, but something has changed now that many homes have multiple devices.
Although I can’t talk about any of them just yet, virtually all of the major players in the PC space have some really exciting products and technology coming down the pipeline. Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA have some very interesting silicon on the way. SSD manufacturers will also be pushing the envelope. We’re finally seeing some action in the monitor market. And system builders are working on some of the most innovative PCs I have seen to date. The number of innovative, and ultimately desirable, PC products poised to be on store shelves (or available on-line) this holiday season surprised me.
Which brings me to gaming. If you spend as much time as I do browsing the web, absorbing as much tech news as possible, you’re likely to have noticed a shift in the perception of PC gaming. During the last console cycle, gaming PCs took some lumps because the Xbox 360 and PS3 packed some proprietary hardware that was capable of things only a high-end gaming PC at the time could match. But this time around it seems gamers have matured a bit, taken the PS4’s and Xbox One’s specifications and graphics fidelity into consideration, and many have turned to the PC. You no longer need a monster gaming PC to surpass the capabilities of a console. In fact, if you factor in the relatively affordable price of slightly older games on services like Steam, the cost a modestly powerful gaming PC and a dozen games or so, may even be lower than a console with the equivalent number of games. The term “PC Master Race” is bandied about on virtually every tech publication now—and for good reason. As I’ve said before, the PC is the premiere gaming platform in my opinion.
And then there’s the Windows 9 wildcard. Microsoft’s reputation was severely tarnished after the Windows Vista debacle, but the company hit a grand slam with Windows 7. After the drubbing Microsoft has taken with Windows 8, it seems they are set to right many wrongs with Windows 9. Much of what I’ve seen with Windows 9 points to a renewed focus on desktops, and if Microsoft has another hit like Windows 7 on its hands, it could spur many consumers and businesses alike to finally upgrade. We’ll know how the public feels about Windows 9 soon, if the rumors of a public preview turn out to be true next month.
Oh, and let’s not forget that all of those fancy mobile devices out there were all designed on PCs. PCs are necessary to get complex work done and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future. And if the PC becomes cool again, they’re going to start selling again too.