by Shane O'Neill

iPad Rising: It’s Not Dark Yet for PCs, But It’s Getting There

Mar 04, 2011
Data Center

Research firms predict big PC sales dips, as consumers go gaga for tablets and smartphones. Is the end nigh for PCs?

There have been reports lately of the PC’s death. But are they greatly exaggerated?

Mark Twain witticisms aside, PC sales are indeed in trouble, if not quite dying. Gartner this week lowered its U.S. PC shipment growth forecast by 5.4 percent for 2011 and 2012, blaming the rise in tablet sales and loss of enthusiasm for laptops.


Gartner said it expects PC sales to grow 10 percent annually from this year until 2015. There were 15 million iPads sold in 2010, and Gartner predicts sales of iPads and other tablets to reach 54 million this year. The iPad 2 was announced this week and it was as if the rest of the world stopped for a day.

The fervor around iPads and new iPad competitors like the Motorola Xoom is palpable. On a business trip this week I noticed far more tablet use in the airport and on the plane than I did on my last trip two months ago. Tablet enthusiasm — and hard sales — drove Gartner to drop its PC sales growth forecast from 15.9 percent to 10.5 percent. Research firms often change growth predictions, but not usually by 5 percent.

Slideshow: First Look at Apple iPad 2: What’s New, Unchanged and Still Missing

iPad 2: Buyers Face Big Questions

iPad 2 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook: 7 Enterprise Considerations

In a blog post on this week, veteran tech analyst Roger Kay explored the notion of the PC’s slow descent. On the whole, Kay writes, the PC is not dead yet and still enjoys advantages over smartphones and tablets.

PCs are better at content creation (though not content consumption); they provide the ergonomic comfort of a built-in keyboard; they are more modular; and they win the performance test with their powerful x86 chips. Another big plus, at least for businesses, is that PCs provide more compatibility, which is the only good news here for Microsoft, a tablet slowpoke and smartphone underachiever.

“Organizations want continuity with their archives, and these are mostly in Microsoft Windows formats,” Kay writes. “If commercial activity represents roughly half of endpoint purchases, then half the current PC users have at least one good reason to keep using PCs.”

Nevertheless, according to forecasts that Kay cites from IDC, the next year or two will be rather cruel to PCs.

“In 2011, IDC forecasts 373 million PC shipments,” Kay writes. “Although not baked yet, the IDC smartphone forecast is likely to be up by at least 44 percent to 436 million. Forecasts for tablets for 2011 range around 50 million. So, in 2011 the smart devices market will close in on 500 million, far surpassing a slowing PC market.”

Smart devices share the advantage of consumer passion (and dollars), better battery life, lower cost, and, obviously, better mobility, writes Kay.

Even the PC’s advantages are fleeting, he adds, with smart device performance eventually being boosted by advances in ARM architecture, tablet comfort improving with bigger screens and wireless keyboards, and concerns about modularity becoming a relic of the desktop era.

The only PC advantage remaining soon will be compatibility with corporate files and applications. But if you think enterprise IT isn’t planning for smartphones and iPads, think again.

Personally, I like my laptop, and the laptop form factor is getting lighter, thinner, more comfortable and easier to transport. That could just be my profession talking: a keyboard is integral to doing my job more so than most professions. But if you look around your office and at coffee shops and airports, you’ll see that laptops still own much of the hearts and minds of computer users.

But it’s a fool’s errand to dispute the appeal and momentum of tablets and smartphones. They’ve become the content consumption machines de rigueur. Sure, you can watch movies, shop online and read e-books on a laptop, but it just isn’t quite as fun as the mobile tablet experience.

And while the iPad may have felt like a luxury gadget a year ago, now it just feels like the future.

Is the PC dead? No. But it definitely has the flu.

What do you think?

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at