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By all rights, it should be dead by now. I mean, really. A market based on a tech product that first came to market over 35 years go? And yet, here we stand in the waning days of October 2016 and the biggest news expected to come out of the tech industry this week are PC announcements from two of the largest companies in the world: Apple and Microsoft. It's like we're in some kind of a weird time warp. (Of course, the Cubs are poised to win their first World Series in over 100 years, so who knows?)
The development must be particularly surprising to those who bought into the whole "PC is dead" school of thought. According to the proselytizers of this movement, tablets should have clearly taken over the world by now. But that sure didn't happen. While PC shipments have certainly taken their lumps, tablets never reached anything close to PCs from a shipments perspective. In fact, tablet shipments have now been declining for over 3 years.
After tablets, smartwatches were supposed to be the next generation personal computing device. Recent shipment data from IDC, however, suggests that smartwatches are in for an even worse fate than tablets. A little more than a year-and-a-half after being widely introduced to the market, smartwatch shipments are tanking. Not exactly a good sign for what was supposed to be the "next big thing."
Of course, PCs continue to face their challenges as well, particularly consumer PCs. After peaking in Q4 of 2011, worldwide PC shipments have been on a slow steady decline ever since. Interestingly, however, US PC shipments have actually turned around recently and are now on a modestly increasing growth curve.
PCs have actually never been stronger or more attractive tech devices---it's more like a personal computer renaissance than a personal computer extinction.
The reason for this is that PCs have continued to prove their usefulness and value to a wide range of people, especially in business environments. PCs are certainly not the only computing device that people are using anymore, but for many, PCs remain the go-to productivity device and for others, they still play an important role.
To put it simply, there's just something to be said for the large-screen computing experience that only PCs can truly provide. More importantly, it's not clear to me that there's anything poised to truly replace that experience in the near term.
Another big reason for the PC's longevity is that it has been on a path of constant and relatively consistent evolution since its earliest days. Driven in part by the semiconductor manufacturing advances enabled by Moore's Law, a great deal of credit also needs to be given to chip designers at Intel, AMD and nVidia, among others, who have created incredibly powerful devices. Similarly, OS and application software advances by Apple, Microsoft and many others have created environments that over a billion people are able to use to work, play and communicate with on a daily basis.
There have also been impressive improvements in the physical designs of PCs. After a few false starts at delivering thin-and-light notebooks, for example, the super-slim ultrabook offerings from the likes of Dell (XPS13), HP (Spectre X360) and Lenovo (ThinkPad X1) have caught up to and arguably even surpassed Apple's still-impressive MacBook Air. At the same time, to the surprise of many, Microsoft's Surface has successfully spawned a whole new array of 2-in-1 and convertible PC designs that has brought new life to the PC market as well. It's easy to take for granted now, but you can finally get the combination of performance, weight, size and battery life that many have always wanted in a PC.
Frankly, PCs have actually never been stronger or more attractive tech devices---it's more like a personal computer renaissance than a personal computer extinction. The fact that we'll likely be talking about the latest additions to this market later this week says a great deal about the role that PCs still have to play.