4 Reasons PC Market Won't Rebound

PCs aren't dead, but laptops and desktops have seen their best days.
There might be hybrid devices that eventually meet a lot of users' needs by offering Windows 8-like access to both desktop and tablet environments. But these devices would still be used in tablet mode to a huge extent, so much so that it would be a stretch to refer to them as traditional PCs, regardless of how IDC or Gartner ultimately decided to classify their sales. And unless they can magically resize themselves and/or multiply on command, do-it-all devices will stop neither the multi-screen trend nor the need for different sizes of gadgets.

Put another way, the tablet market is poised to overtake the PC market, even without much help from Microsoft or Windows 8. The iPad is only three years old, and even if tablets have infiltrated only a fraction of companies, the fact that they've made a mark at all in such a short time is impressive. As the technology evolves, apps and workflows will arise that allow tablets to invade the workplace even further. PCs might retain a big chunk of their tasks, but all the small losses add up.

3. Tablets are just the beginning.

Tablets and smartphones are only the first wave of technologies that will eat into the traditional PC market. Widespread adoption of wearable technology, whether it ends up looking like Google Glass, is coming. It's also now possible to stick a sensor and processor in just about anything. Just as touch has changed the computing world, so too will developing technologies, such as voice- or gesture-based interfaces. TVs and computers will gradually merge together, becoming something that won't properly fit either of those categories as we know them today. The list could go on.

The implication for PCs? These new technologies will absorb a few more of the tasks for which we currently use other devices, not only laptops and desktops but probably smartphones and tablets, too. But the most profound impact won't involve the re-appropriation of earlier devices' duties but rather a new breed of apps. Such apps could rely on anything from augmented reality to analytics derived from pervasive sensors linked via the cloud to big data backends. It's difficult to predict how such bleeding-edge technology will develop, but one thing is certain: new categories of apps and devices are unlikely to kill the PC, but they won't do it any favors, either.

4. The tech powers have already conceded the future.

In their decisions, the major tech players have already conceded the low likelihood of a PC resurgence. Microsoft's increased interest in mini-tablets is one indication. The diversity of devices that will use Intel chips, once virtually synonymous with Windows and PCs, is another. OEMs such as Samsung, HP and Acer are no longer building devices around a single platform but rather producing options that run the gamut: Chrome OS, Android, Windows and so on.

Dell's decision to go private is another sign; the move was presumably compelled by a need to shift its revenue balance away from PCs, which are still lucrative but not to the extent that they can support a big company. Dell is also among a growing number of companies investing in virtualization and cloud products to mitigate the need for enterprises to standardize their infrastructures around a single operating system. Industry powers are demonstrating, in short, than an era of diverse computing has dawned.

Indeed, Gartner projects that half of all companies will implement mandatory BYOD programs by 2017. Not all of these programs will be motivated by business use cases or leaps in productivity, but they reiterate the new prominence of consumer choice.

These choices are only expected to increase, and a multi-device philosophy has become part of our computing culture. As a result, consumers and businesses will continue to find new workflows and new approaches to old problems. That won't kill the traditional PC any time soon. But it guarantees that the PC won't rebound either.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing