Every three months the same set of headlines spread like wildfire throughout every blog, news agency and media outlet. “PC shipments are plummeting”, “The PC market is dead”, doom and gloom, end of days ad nauseum.
The trigger is always a report from one of the two leading research firms, Gartner and the IDC, who monitor worldwide shipments of all manner of electronics including smartphones, tablets and of course desktop and notebook PCs. The most recent of these reports show worldwide PC shipments in the last quarter of 2013 that are 6.9% lower than the same period 12 months earlier. In real numbers it means that 5.7 million fewer PCs were sold over the three month period. The bad news doesn’t stop there either, because over the course of the whole of 2013 PC sales were down by 10%.
Well that’s that then, obviously the PC market is dead, the numbers don’t lie. Or do they?
What is a PC?
Back when I was a youngling, a PC could only be one of two things: a desktop machine or a notebook. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Personal Computer today yields a different result: “A personal computer may be a desktop computer or a laptop, tablet or a handheld PC.”
This change in definition was the result of the evolution of the tech industry itself. In 2010 Apple’s then CEO, Steve Jobs took to the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and introduced the world to the iPad. It was for all intents and purposes a large version of the company’s increasingly successful iPhone.
In the four years since the iPad’s launch the global tablet market exploded, with most companies in the tech sector jumping on the bandwagon and offering their own take on this new product category.
Some companies have enjoyed more success than others. Google’s Android operating system that powers smartphones, tablets and now even full-blown desktop PCs from various manufacturers has grown to dominate the mobile landscape– at least, in terms of the number of gadgets that use it – while Microsoft’s own attempt at a new style of operating system, Windows 8, has had a less than warm reception.
Hold on, tablets aren’t PCs
Even though tablets and smartphones started out as products separate from PCs, with hardware that was nowhere near as powerful, as technology has evolved they’ve become more and more capable.
Early on tablets, like the iPad, shipped with ARM designed processors, which were not powerful enough to keep up with Intel and AMD’s processors that powered desktop and notebook systems. They were ideal for mobile devices, though, as their performance levels were sufficient to drive the tablet and smartphone experience but critically offered superb battery life. This was something that Intel and AMD’s x86 chips simply could not offer.
That changed with the introduction of Intel’s Bay Trail mobile platform. It offered battery life comparable to that of ARM-based systems, while also delivering overall performance favourably comparable to that of desktops and notebooks. Everyday activities like opening browsers, creating documents and overseeing email worked like a dream on tablets powered by Bay Trail.
Because of this development, the gap between the performance offered by a mobile platform versus that of a desktop or notebook machine narrowed drastically, blurring the lines between what and what isn’t a PC. With so much power at their disposal Bay Trail-powered tablets, while perfectly capable of being used exclusively as a tablet, can be transformed into a desktop PC by simply attaching a keyboard, mouse and monitor.
The real story
It’s thanks to advances like this that it’s now fair to say that tablets count as PCs. For the most part they offer a more intuitive way for the average user to do the things that they have always done on PCs, which is browse the web, watch cat videos and communicate with other people, but at their heart, they are completely functional personal computers.
Unless something drastic changes in 2014, shipments of notebook and desktop PCs will drop lower and tablet sales will increase substantially. But that’s not really a problem, because thanks to the blurring of the line between what is and what isn’t considered a PC, it’s my contention that tablets are, in fact, PCs, and should be counted as such among all future reports on “The PC Industry”.
So really, the PC market is not dead, it’s just different. Now can we please stop with the fear-mongering for the sake of getting hits and links and get on with answering a real question:
Star Wars or Star Trek?