Is the PC Dead?

The analytics firm Gartner recently released its predictions for global shipments of mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, and “ultramobile” devices (which include hybrids, Chromebooks, and phablets), and assuming they’re right, then the future is going mobile.

First, the numbers:  In 2013 the total number of shipments of all devices is expected to increase about 6 percent, from 2.22 billion to 2.34 billion.  Mobile phones make up the bulk of that number, with a projected 1.82 billion units being shipped worldwide.  Curiously, the percentage increase in mobile phone shipments from 2012 to 2013 is only 4.3%, which is lower enough than the total 5.9% to raise a few eyebrows.  So where is the higher percentage coming from?  In 2012 there were 120 million tablets sold worldwide, but Gartner projects a staggering increase to 201 million in 2013, which represents a whopping 68% increase in sales.  In fact, the only category that will decline is the desktop PC, which will go from 341 million units to 305.

So once again, the blogosphere predicts the death of the PC.  The thinking here is that the stark increase in tablets and the accompanying reduction in PC sales means that everyone wants to give up their PCs for the convenience of a mobile device.  But there are quite a few problems with this line of thinking.

The first is a statistical problem: If this year I buy phones for my children, and my wife and I both buy tablets, but our family PC still meets our needs, then this year our household would see rocketing percentage increases in mobile phones and tablets, but not PCs.  High percentages do not mean high volume.

Secondly, tablets cannot yet do everything desktops can, and we’re not just talking here about the frustrations of iPad users who want to create PowerPoint presentations.  For one, screen size matters, and without adding peripheral monitors, tablets just aren’t big enough to do everything consumers want to do.  Storage size matters, too, and as beefy as tablets may be for now, they’ll never be able to match that of desktops.  Keeping data in the Cloud is one solution, of course, but considering how jittery we’ve all become lately about the security of our private data, there will always be a market for secure, user-controlled storage of personal information.

So while we’re delighted to see mobile devices make such strong gains in the marketplace, it seems to us that once again the death of the PC is greatly exaggerated.

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