The PC is Dead, Long live the PC

A few days ago I blogged about the week I traded my usual laptop for a tablet (an HP ElitePad) – an experiment designed to test a tablet’s capabilities in a normal* working environment.

Conclusions were that the ElitePad is a great piece of kit for on the go, quick tasks and I loved its portability.  But for spreadsheets and Word documents, a laptop still has the edge for ease of use and faster processing speed.

In order to make this a ‘fair test’ I’ll need to test more than one tablet (hope the Finance Director’s reading this) but at the moment I would say that I need something in between a laptop and a tablet to be able to be comfortable using it as my main device.

One of the reasons why I chose the ElitePad was that it comes with the Windows 8 operating system –  part of Microsoft’s strategy for rolling Windows 8 out across PCs, tablets and smartphones.

A strategy that seems to have bypassed those who’ve written the recent sensationalist ‘Microsoft is doomed!’ headlines that have appeared as a result of Gartner’s predictions on what the device industry will look like in 2017.  Which, on the face of it, forecasts a sharp decline in the number of PC shipments.

Cue the raft of ‘This is the end for Microsoft’ blogs and articles.  However, as is argued well by Ed Bott in this article, most of these blogs got the story very wrong indeed.

Here is a snapshot of what Gartner predicted in worldwide device shipments over the next four years:

Worldwide Devices Shipments by Segment (Thousands of Units)

Device Type





PC (Desk-Based and Notebook)















Mobile Phone










Source: Gartner (April 2013)

The most interesting stat here isn’t the decline in PCs – it’s the rapid rise in the ‘Ultra Mobile’ – which are essentially exactly the same as PCs with all the same capabilities, but are lightweight.

In his article Ed combines the totals for PCs and Ultra Mobiles and this paints a very different picture.

We are of course relying on Gartner’s numbers here, and they have been known to make the odd, spectacular mistake in some of their previous predictions.

But I would argue that although heavy duty PCs are declining in popularity, the PC isn’t dead and buried; it’s simply going through an evolutionary phase.

People still need the best tool for the job – I certainly did when I was trying to find my way around Excel on the ElitePad with nothing more than a touchscreen and a temperamental user (i.e me).

The trend is definitely heading towards more tablet orientated devices as people’s first choice of device, but we’re not quite there yet and there is some catching up to be done.

Another reason for the potential decline in PC sales is, strangely, the fact that they have become a lot better over the years.

Back in the ’95, ’97 era, when you wanted to upgrade to a new operating system you usually had to take a few deep breaths, take a sour swallow, and buy an entirely new PC.

Now, most PCs are built in such a way that they are powerful enough to cope and run with new software updates.  In fact they can cope with memory hungry programs and increasingly large file sizes with processor speeds and RAM more than 7 times greater than they did 5 years ago.

As Ted Schadler writes in this recent Forbes article, the replacement cycle for PCs may soon become 6 years instead of 4 years for the home, and 4 years instead of 3 years at work.

What has also made new PCs more powerful is that you no longer need a troglobyte of storage capacity to run anything more complicated than Monkey Island.

Cloud technology has reduced the need to store all of your data on premise, which means that it isn’t at all ludicrous to say that smaller devices (here’s the Ultra Mobile coming back into force) with less power are still capable of doing what you need them to do.

I remember when I bought my first iPod – I’m ashamed to admit I was caught up in the sell and went for the device with the most storage capacity as I knew it wasn’t possible to bolt on any more if I couldn’t install all my music.

Now, iCloud negates that need, and unless you want to keep hundreds of films permanently on your device to compensate for that moment when you’re in a Die Hard or Lethal Weapon mood, the smallest storage device is now perfectly adequate.

The biggest problem I now face is the need for always fast connectivity. The constant desire to upgrade my connectivity seems to have replaced the constant need to upgrade my device.

So, looking beneath the headlines and taking a look more at the strategies of the ‘big 2’ – Microsoft has a strategy for businesses to be able to use multi format devices; Apple are still going after the high margin customers.

My point here is that Microsoft’s survival and strategy isn’t based solely around the PC. 

It has taken into account the PC’s evolutionary status and you probably haven’t failed to notice their ‘tiles’ popping up in everything from the Internet Explorer 10 and Surface adverts to powerful business applications such as Dynamics NAV 2013 and all that is in between.

What was it that Paul said in his last post about the ‘ubiquitous user experience’ – I suspect that Microsoft aren’t going away……

*Nothing about my job is normal but that’s the way I like it!