Yup, PCs are still dying, but tablets might actually delay their extinction

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I love my computer

If you’re a serious fan of the conventional PC, avert your eyes now because we’re about to lay down a harsh truth. The desktop PC is dying.

Sure it’s a long, slow death and one that’s been coming for a while now, but it’s definitely happening. Story after story over the past few months has shown a steady decline in PC sales around the globe.

The latest research from tech research company Gartner suggests that decline is only speeding up. The company estimates that worldwide PC shipments totalled 90.3-million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 4.9% decline from the fourth quarter of 2011.

The thing that’s causing the damage: tablets. Obviously.

Well, it really is obvious, but not for the reason you might think. People aren’t buying tablets as desktop replacements. Go into most people’s homes and they’ll still have desktop PC set up somewhere. They perform necessary tasks, things you just can’t do on a tablet. But because of tablets (along with a number of other factors including widely available cloud storage), we don’t need to replace them as frequently.

“Whereas as once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC,” says Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa.

“There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be exception and not the norm. Therefore, we hypothesize that buyers will not replace secondary PCs in the household, instead allowing them to age out and shifting consumption to a tablet.”

“This transformation was triggered by the availability of compelling low-cost tablets in 2012, and will continue until the installed base of PCs declines to accommodate tablets as the primary consumption device,” she added.

Gartner reckons the fact that people are buying low-cost tablets might actually be what halts the PC’s extinction.

In order to explain what they mean in terms that don’t sound like the contents of the last PowerPoint presentation that put you to sleep, I’m going to draw on an analogy. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, horses were the primary means of moving about and transporting objects within cities. They were worked to the bone before eventually being sent off to the knacker’s yard. Millions of horses were killed off every year.

Then the automobile came along and took the workload off horses. That meant they could become animals used exclusively for leisure. Overall their lot has improved.

The same applies to desktop computers. The ones that people aren’t buying and replacing with tablets are generally at the lower end of the scale. They’re the everyday grunt horses that your parents manage to break with the sheer power of ignorance or that companies dole out to their employees and replace once they explode from the exertion of performing tasks beyond their capabilities for eight hours a day, every day.

The people still buying desktops are buying them for specialist purposes and they will use them in such a way as to get the best out of them because they need them to work. As Gartner notes, when people do replace these machines, they’ll do so “for richer applications, rather than for consumption.”

The companies that seem to be taking most advantage of this are Lenovo and Asus. The two Asian manufacturers were the only two to see growth during the last quarter of 2012.

PC Market

If they keep doing what they’re doing either could easily steal HP’s crown. Sure the market they’re in will be smaller, but last time I checked the world’s leading horse breeders weren’t pleading poverty.

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