PC: Dead Or Alive

If we have to believe the media comments on the latest PC shipment numbers, the PC market is just about dead; thanks to the media tablets and smartphones. But when looking more closely at the shipment numbers the story is a bit more complex. Context calculated Dutch PC shipments in 2010 to be more than 3.5 Mln units: not exactly a dead market. For good measure I have put together the shipments of PCs, tablets and smart phones and their forecast.

The numbers show that the PC is indeed being challenged by the smartphone and the media tablet. After 30 years of reign in client computing this should not come as a surprise. We do not believe however that the PC market is to disappear anytime soon. But there is no doubt that the role of the PC is changing and that some of the tasks traditionally carried out by PC’s are now taken over by other devices.

How does it all stack up?

The market for client computing devices is a complicated one whose dynamics are rapidly changing due to the increasing impact of the Web. To understand the dynamics of this market it makes sense to realize that the traditional PC was all about processing data by people, hence ‘personal computing’. But the omnipresent worldwide web has fundamentally changed the nature of personal computing. In fact we should no longer talk about ‘personal or client computing devices’ but rather discuss personal information devices (PID).

The PC, media tablet and smart phone are actually all three multi-purpose devices but due to their form factor and performance they excel in different aspect of the information process. The PC excels in processing information, the tablet in accessing information, and the smart phone in communicating information.

As the pervasiveness of the web has shifted the focus from processing data/information to information access, retrieval and communication, the PC is losing its popularity. Especially for households and consumers in general accessing information and communication is much more common than processing information. The new PC alternatives are much more geared towards accessing and communicating information and in fact are also much more personal. No wonder consumers are attracted to this new range of devices.

Media tablets therefore are a logical PC replacement in many households. Since almost 60% of the PC shipments are consumer shipments, the success of the tablet causes PC shipments to take a hit. However this trends is somewhat softened by the fact that the tablet is also complementary to the PC. It is also tapping into new market segments: there is the category of people for whom the PC was just too messy to deal with (older people) and there is also a growing number of people whose main purpose is to access the increasing amount of online information (good enough).

Another addition to the digital wardrobe is the smart phone. If information retrieval and communication needs to happen in a mobile fashion, the smart phone is the real deal. This happened to be the case for over 2 million people in the Netherlands last year. In fact the smart phone will soon replace the dumb phone as the de facto standard for communication. Because of its small footprint, it is not as much a competitor to the PC as a complementary piece of equipment to one’s personal tech-gear.

In the business environment the PC will not go away anytime soon. There is just too much invested in a professional PC client infrastructure. While the discussion about the flexible workforce is peeking on fora the majority of Dutch companies still have a traditional environment with fixed workplaces equipped with a desk, a phone and a PC. In fact PC shipments in the business environment will go up this year as replacement cycles are fueling the market after 2 consecutive years of delaying the periodical PC refresh cycles.

The media tablet and smartphone are not the only contenders to the PC. Realizing that the PC, media tablet and smartphone are all three multi-purpose devices costing 500 Euro (plus or minus a 100), there is solid opportunity for low cost personal information devices that are superior for a specific purpose such as gaming, reading, viewing, listening. Some proof of that is coming from the US. US ownership of e-readers is currently at 12% and growing fast, even faster than tablets. We should expect a lot more devices that cater to the personal need of consumers and professional in the next few years. It will only make the market for personal information devices more dynamic and competitive.

The choice of personal information devices increases as we speak. But it doesn’t mean the end for the PC as there is still an enormous demand for processing capabilities. The PC market will be around for at least another decade albeit in a much less dominating way and served in many different flavors.

The future of personal information devices lies in mapping primary product functionality to required tasks. In our forthcoming report we will dive deeper into the expanding spectrum of devices, functions, tasks and user segments. Interested in more analysis behind Personal Information Devices? Contact us at www.theMETISfiles.com.

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About Marcel Warmerdam