A faster shift toward the post-PC era?

by Sohini Bagchi    May 29, 2013

post pc tablet

PCs are no longer in the leading edge of computing. With researchers increasingly predicting the waning future of personal computers, many in the industry have started to wonder whether PCs would suffer the same fate as the typewriter in the 1980s. And according to some researchers this may happen in the immediate future.

Recently IDC predicted that PC shipment worldwide is likely to fall by 7.8 per cent this year to 321.9 millions, pointing out that users are increasingly seeking alternative computing devices such as tablets and smartphones to access data and information. In contrast, tablet shipments are now expected to increase by 59 per cent in 2013 to 229.3 million units, up from 144.5 million units last year. The firm says it expects tablet shipments to outpace the entire PC market including desktop and laptop PCs by 2015.

Last month, Gartner too had predicted in the next 3 years, tablets will outsell traditional Windows PCs by a whopping 72 per cent. In between, PC shipments will drop at ever faster rates. In Q1 of 2013 itself, PC shipments totaled 79.2 million units, a 11.2 per cent decline from the first quarter of 2012 and for the first time since the second quarter of 2009. As Mikako Kitagawa, Principal Analyst at Gartner observes that enterprise and end user consumers are migrating content consumption from PCs to other connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones. All these clearly indicate that we are witnessing a faster shift to a post-PC era that is predominantly ruled by the mobile computing devices.

The fall of PCs

What is alarming is the pace and percentage of decline researchers have been mentioning in thier report which clearly indicates that personal computers or desktop computers will die a premature death and the scenario is getting worse. In early 2013, IDC highlighted a 1.3 per cent dip in the PC shipment, which was a modest decline. The last quarter however was a game changer, when, the PC market saw a steepest decline since 1994. IDC predicted that the shipments of laptops and desktop PCs fell 14 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier. The recent one however forcast by 2017, only 333 million PCs will be sold worldwide, while tablet shipments will reach 410 million.Experts also believe that as improvements in PC technology become more incremental, consumers will eventually gravitate toward mobile devices. For example, the shipments of PCs have declined regardless of Microsoft’s introduction of Windows 8 that was designed to make PCs appear more like tablets.

“Many users are realizing that everyday computing, such as accessing the Web, connecting to social media, sending emails, as well as using a variety of apps, doesn’t require a lot of computing power or local storage,” said Loren Loverde, a senior researcher at IDC in a statement. And this includes even enterprise users, who are accessing their data from a variety of smaller devices with longer battery life, an instant-on function, and intuitive touch-centric interfaces.

Users may not necessarily give up on PCs as a platform for computing when a more robust environment is needed, but this takes a smaller share of computing time, and users are making do with older systems.
-Loren Loverde, senior researcher at IDC

The rise of tablets

The continued fall of the PC market is being driven by the rise of tablets as portable computing devices that can serve users’ web browsing needs at a much lower cost than traditional PCs. Researchers predict that tablets will continue to play a major role in the ‘Post-PC Era’.

While Apple triggered this shift to tablets, at present the market is fueled by low-cost Android devices. In 2013, the global average selling price for tablets is expected to decline by 11 per cent to $381 and this price is tremendously decrease in the coming months, says IDC. In comparison, the average selling price of a PC this year is nearly double that at $635.

According to a recent ABI Research, 145 million tablets will be shipped by 2013 end, with iPad mini and Windows 8 pushing the worldwide tablet shipments. It states that sales of tablets will be driven by enterprise consumers with 30 million of these devices to be used in the workplace. This represents 19 percent of all tablets shipped in the same time period. Jeff Orr, senior researcher at ABI Research notes that 2013 will be a big year in terms of adoption and shipment of tablets because of IT consumerization trends, especially with the increased popularity of the BYOD.

The revival of PC

Ryan Reith, another senior researcher from IDC believes that the growth of tablets and decline of PCs indicate a fast shift in the global computing paradigm (including devices and the applications) with mobile being the primary benefactor. However, IDC still believes PCs will have an important role in this new era of computing.

“Enterprise mobility is growing at a rapid pace. With the percentage of mobile workforce expected to increase in the coming days, tablets will become an indispensable tool for remote employees,” says Kumar R Parakala, Head of Management Consulting - IT Advisory, KPMG in EMA. However, he does not agree that tablets will soon replace desktop PCs especially in the Indian market. According to him, tablets will continue to occupy a seat between smartphones and portable PCs without replacing either. They will complement PCs as media consumption devices, while at the same time allow seamless sharing of content with mobile phones.

Although the PC market is witnessing a shift, for a section of the enterprise and consumer market, a PC or laptop is still important. As Brian Kevin Turner, the global chief operating officer of Microsoft Corporation said at a Bangalore event last month, “PC is shrinking as a market, but the PC is not dead; it is taking rebirth and getting reformatted in the thousands of new devices types and new smart devices.”

Therefore, its time, researchers suggest PC makers should give a serious thought on the kind of functionality and features these computing devices should have. As Loverde indicates that Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system can gain more traction once manufacturers start making smaller and cheaper touchscreen devices. Even though its complete extinction is debatable in certain markets, researchers say it is important that PC makers undergo a resurrection and make themselves as relevant as possible to consumers in the near future.