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What is a PC Anyway?

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Gartner publishes one report about tablet sales slowing down, and PC sales going up, and suddenly it’s the end of the tablet era.  A brief romance, and it was fun while it lasted, but we’ll stick with our tried and tested PCs thank you very much.

Well, not quite…

The real story paints quite an interesting picture on what kind of devices we are using for work, and it seems the definition of what a PC is, is becoming increasingly blurred.

Here’s Gartner’s sums and predictions for device sales:

(Ultramobile premium is what you might describe a Surface Pro 3 or an Apple Mac Air – more portability than a laptop, but with similar processing power capabilities to most PCs)

(Worldwide device shipments by segement: Gartner)

In 2013, tablet sales increased by a massive 68% percent on the previous year. Based on this, Gartner made an initial prediction that this market would grow by a further 28% in 2014.

Growth hasn't been as high as that, so they’ve now downgraded this estimate down to a much more conservative 14% growth rate, which has prompted some declarations of the tablet device to be on its way out. This might be overlooking the fact that since so many of us bought tablets in 2013, we’re probably going to wait more than a year before we replace them.

In the same breath, Gartner are also predicting that tablet sales will finally outsell traditional PCs and laptops by 2015.

That’s one way of looking at it.

But when you add together ultramobiles with the traditional PC market (which makes sense given the specifications are similar), then this category is still the frontrunner. In fact, that whole PC category probably needs redefining.

Meanwhile, this quarter has still seen a drop in PC sales, but it’s nowhere near the kind of drops that we have been seeing recently. It’s more like a 1% drop. 

The reason for the decline slowing down? This could be due to a variety of factors. Possibly the biggest is that with Microsoft ending support for Windows XP, many business who were still using this ancient operating system saw this as a perfect time to introduce a more modern technology environment, and replace their existing hardware.

Another reason could be the advancement of big data analytics and graphic rendering. This is an interesting quote from Michael Dell speaking to USA Today earlier this year:

“The world got enamoured with smartphones and tablets…but what’s interesting is those devices don’t do everything that needs to be done. 3D printing, virtual reality computing, robotics are all controlled by PCs. Productivity is grounded in PCs…how would you run a hospital without PCs?”

He has a valid point.  However, Cloud technology does mean that you don’t need to have so much storage capacity built into your PC when you can access it all online.  So whilst it may be true that certain programs will only run on PCs, and they possibly will be the best tool for a lot of jobs, they cannot rely on the productivity argument forever.

Particularly when ultramobiles get good enough to have similar specifications, you feel comfortable using them for resource intensive tasks, are able to access large amounts of information remotely, and can be taken on a train without getting a hernia.

And this is why we’re seeing such large amounts of growth in these two markets in particular: the ultramobile, and Cloud services such as Office 365. The trick now is for these ultramobiles to keep getting better.

So with ultramobiles taking such an upward turn, does that mean the love story is over for ‘traditional’ smartphones and tablets? Is one device all we really need?

I don’t think so, and internet search figures would suggest our interest in smartphones in particular is alive and well. Plus, mobiles are the only figure in that table above where we’re talking billions, not just millions.

My iPhone 6 arrived last week, and it is awesome. The battery life is considerably better than my old iPhone 5 – and by that I mean I can actually use it like a mobile device rather than it being constantly tethered to my laptop through fear of being caught short when out and about. 

The larger screen gives me an extra row of app icons which meant spending a not insubstantial amount of time deciding which apps were good enough to get promoted to the front page. These things are important, after all.

I have always been a fan of the Apple devices and they do seem to get better with every new release. IOS 8 has added some decent features; the most important one for me is the family sharing option.

My daughter can now use her own account to access the store, and I don’t have the fear of a few hundred quid bill as any costs are alerted on my phone (as I’m the main account holder) to authorise.

Microsoft are now smashing their way into the mobile market with entry level phones from the Nokia range, and they’re on their way to becoming the No.2 for mobile business use (though still quite a long way behind on a consumer level, not that that’s what they’re aiming for).

So, the big brands aren’t leaving mobile working behind any time soon. And neither are we. It’s just that now we want our mobile devices to do more things, and we have a lot of choices when it comes to that.  Even Apple, renowned for offering limited choice, launched five new versions of the iPad last night.

As for the PC? Well, surely a personal computer is a device that you use, regardless of form factor.  And in order for tablets to remain competitive, their functionality will need to grow.  Kind of like a PC.  Peter Yared for TechCruch writes:

"The features required for a tablet to evolve into a super tablet are straight from the PC playbook: at least a 13” screen, 64 bit processor, 2GB of RAM, 256GB drive, a real keyboard, an actual file system, and an improved operating system with windowing and true multitasking capability."  

Which brings me to the conclusion: aren’t they all PCs? What is a PC anyway?

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