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Desktop PCs - the End of an Era?

Published on August 19, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication, Mobile Application Development

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago that the personal computer made its revolutionary entrance in the world of technology. After all, it was only in 1981 that the first PC was launched. The computer in question was the IBM 5150 and, at the time, it was at the cutting edge of technology.

The PC managed to stay at the leading edge for some time afterwards and is still massively popular today. For instance, based on Microsoft’s sales of the Windows 7 software, sales figures for the second quarter of 2011 stood at around 75 million – an impressive figure.

However, when you look a little beneath the surface, it is possible to see that the strong sales figures aren’t quite as sturdy as they first seem. In the second quarter of 2010, PC sales figures stood at around 80 million, meaning that there was a significant decline between last year and this year.

It is possible to give several reasons for this. One is that the recent global recession and resulting stuttering recovery, coupled with higher inflation and less disposable incomes for the people who previously might have bought PCs, have led to people tightening their belts rather than splashing out new technology.

This, though, is not the only explanation. Changes have been occurring in the market for a few years now, as new innovations come through and people start to acquire new and innovative devices that fill the space the PC once used to occupy. For instance, millions of people now own smartphones that have internet access, as well as other internet-capable devices, such as laptops, games consoles and tablet computers.

The tablet computer is an interesting one, especially as it leads us onto one of the technology giants of the moment: Apple. It was recently reported that Apple has got more money than the US government and, when you look at how well their sales are going – as well as the growing breadth of products that they have on offer – it isn’t hard to see why they are doing well.

For instance, even while the PC market was down 17.5% in Europe at the start of 2011, the market for Apple Macs was up by 10%. In Asia, Mac sales were up by 69.4%. This happened largely because more businesses and governments, as well as home users, are starting to use Macs in place of the traditional PC.

Apple is also the dominant force in the tablet market. If you combine all of the Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab, EEE Pad and the Motorla Xoom, the Apple iPad is still outselling them by a ratio of 24:1. This certainly suggests that things are starting to shift away from the traditional ‘big players’ in home computing and moving in Apple’s favour.

There are several things that can help to explain Apple’s increasing dominance of the computing market. One is that it has a fairly impressive brand image that means its product launches are guaranteed to attract a large amount of attention. Another reason is that it has many more developers at its disposal than most other companies, meaning that Apple users are much more likely to benefit from state of the art apps ad other developments. 

All of this shows that even though changes are clearly afoot, the world of personal computing is still massive – and growing. 400 million personal computers are expected to be sold in 2011. Growing markets in developing countries are contributing to this, as is increased take-up of internet use.

Naturally, this raises several challenges for web designers and computer programmers, among others. For example, an increasing array of devices means there is an increasing array of factors to take into account when working in web design or coding. While this is undoubtedly a challenge, it also arguably provides more scope for the innovation we have heard so much about over the past few years, with increasing diversity in the type of devices that people are using to access the internet even as certain firms (Apple, Google) remain dominant.

It also raises interesting questions for consumers – the people who buy these products and are gradually moving away from PCs in favour of laptops and tablet computers. In particular, it raises the question of cost versus value: Apple products, for instance, aren’t necessarily the cheapest to buy and in some cases other manufacturers might offer better products (depending on your view, of course) and yet it seems that expense isn’t as big an issue for people as you might expect.

With the market still evolving, it is hard to predict exactly what will become of the PC over the next few years, but it’s sure to be very interesting to watch. The impact of Windows 8, whenever it is released, might offer some indication of what’s going on – or at least Microsoft’s response to what’s going on – but for now it seems as though rather than simply sticking to the trust old PC, people are increasingly looking for diversity, innovation, image and quality in the products they buy. It doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon.

By Chelsey Evans

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