The PC isn’t ready to die, it’s ready for a rebirth

Linkedin

Future PCSEvery other week, there seems to be story about the PC dying. This week, it was because Intel is planning on exiting the motherboard business. The screwy thing is, I think the exact opposite is about to happen. Not only is the desktop not dead, it’s about to go through a resurgence. We’re just waiting for that visionary vendor who realizes that bigger is still better, and this Lemming-like agreement that the desktop is dead is holding people back. Here’s why.

How we got here

We started off with desktop computers. The Apple II, Mac, IBM PCs, and even Commodore and Atari machines were all designed to mostly stay in one place. Our first portables were pretty ugly. My own first portable from Panasonic, called the Sr. Partner, weighed in around 35 pounds, and even had a built-in thermal printer and a plasma screen that displayed, wait for it, an amazing two colors. Both orange. These machines wouldn’t run on batteries, and were basically desktop computers with smaller, more limited screens, and handles for lugging them around.

We then moved to laptops, and even early tablets, but the laptop form factor held. They had batteries, but two hours on battery was often a stretch. Best of that early lot was the IBM Butterfly laptop, which showcased both the promise and the problem. It was wonderfully portable, but slow as snot.

Laptops didn’t become truly viable until the beginning of the last decade, and desktop computers have started to fall off in popularity since then. But laptops were still smaller, slower, and really just portable desktops. Tablets were basically expensive laptops with or without keyboards, and not very popular.

Now jump ahead to the iPad. Suddenly tablets are the thing, and laptops began to emulate them. They’re very light, reasonably fast, but with ever smaller screens and tinier keyboards, which are often touch based. Yes, we’re now far more mobile, but far less productive.

We’re trained to think that this process is evolutionary, that desktops gave way to laptops, which give way to tablets. But that’s like saying four-door sedans gave way to two-door sedans, which gave way to Mazda Miatas. You can’t live off a cell phone or a 7-inch tablet, yet that’s where the market seems to think evolution is taking us. With a large cell phone or small tablet, you don’t need a laptop as much when you are mobile, so if anything, laptops might be more ripe for replacement. The powerful, productive desktop still has a role to play.

We need a new desktop

Back in the 80s, people speculated that personal computers were about to kill the mainframe. Yet here, 30 years later, it is IBM’s most profitable line. But it isn’t the same mainframe we knew back then, the product had to be updated to address today’s needs. If IBM hadn’t done that, it would have died years ago as predicted.

That will be challenge for desktops. Because of the perception that desktops are dead, few manufacturers are making major efforts to update them. Case design stopped advancing about 10 years ago, and while external skins keep changing, the tower and mini-tower, which form the backbone of this segment, have stagnated. These designs are arguably better than all-in-ones because they are more flexible, they can more easily be updated, and they can address more and different sizes of screens more aggressively. With monitors, bigger is always better, unless you have to carry them.

In addition to upgrading the designs, the ecosystem really needs to aggressively create a “better together” solution with tablets. Ideally when you grab your tablet or smartphone and leave your desktop, whatever it was you were working with goes with you until you can once again get back to a bigger machine. Technologies like OnLive desktop, Windows To Go, Skydrive, Office 365 and others will sort of get you there, but they need to be packaged and presented better. Desktops should offer an experience very similar to what you get with books on multiple Kindle readers and apps today; it doesn’t matter which device you grab, not only is your book on it, it’s opened to right where you left off.

Wanted: Desktop visionary

Lenovo is likely one of the companies likely to figure out that desktops are still viable – and give them the reinvention they need. The company’s 27-inch table-top all-in-one was arguably one of the most innovative PCs at CES 2013, and it was a desktop PC (even though it had a short-term battery).

Even Vizio, which seemed to get this “better together” concept early on, isn’t executing it with PCs and tablets. I’m kind of surprised at this, since PC vendors are fighting on foreign terrain with tablets, and this strategy would let them bring the battle back to their own turf. A next-generation desktop PC designed to pair perfectly with tablets and smartphones could shift the advantage back their way… if they would build it.

I think someone will figure this out eventually, much as IBM did with the mainframe, but I also think we’ll be sorry it took them so long. I’m imagining a desktop that’s small, fast, with lots of capacity, a large 4K display, and a high-speed tablet sync connection.

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.

Showing 50 comments

  1. Dombivlian 6 months Ago  
    PC Sales Decline. Because PC lasts longer.i am a hardcore fan of PC. I built my own pc in 2010 and no further expenses it has incurred . in the meantime i have bought 3 or 4 mobile phones and only one is working now which is samsung cdma b219, and i have used internet on Mobile many times and i use it now also and my experience is that browsing on pc is like horse riding , everything works straight forward and no unexpected dead ends whereas on mobile speed is slow, moving around page takes ages and sometimes it just doesn;t work. it is like a handicap person trying to walk using stick. Besides mobile apps are mostly useful for fun and pastime but serious computing like photo/video editing, accounting, DTP,ERP really needs a PC. Its mighty, sturdy, versatile and economic too. on pc you can install any os and update as needed.
  2. Justin Time 10 months Ago  
    My graphics card alone cost more than most laptops. Not profitable for the manufacturers?
  3. Sunspots 10 months Ago  
    NASA says there's about a 12 percent chance of a Carrington style solar event happening by 2020. The Carrington event was a massive coronal mass ejection from the sun that happened in 1859, and was so powerful, it set fire to papers on telegraphers' desks, and caused the Aurora Borealis to be visible in Havana. If such an event happened today, It would take out the Internet partially or wholly, and take up to a decade to fix. A desktop or laptop in a protected environment would survive and still be usable. A tablet would not be usable, even if kept in a hardened environment. Even a less intense flare that doesn't create a "doomsday scenario" could cause significant disruptions. Bottom line, no Internet connectivity, no tablet.
  4. Dan Ablan 1 year Ago  
    If Windows wasn't so bad, PC sales wouldn't have tanked as bad. We need an alternative. How many companies and schools still use windows xp? Ridiculous.
  5. John Lake 1 year Ago  
    Dell is tanking PLUS Microsoft investing, HP / Compaq tanking..Levento is slowing down..
  6. Jean Parks 1 year Ago  
    Samsung had a sweet all in one PC on display at CES, powerful but sleek & low profile.
  7. Live Longshot 1 year Ago  
    Less bulky, more up-gradable, more portable and more affordable!
    Until then Macbooks sales will continue to increase.
  8. Clay Thornton 1 year Ago  
    Love my new systemax pc. USA built
  9. Michael Crabtree 1 year Ago  
    I think the ability to work on something is passé. What you will need is a place to route data to and from peripherals. Easily search and find data. And to share inputs at various stages with related software. For example you are editing a video clip and want to add some special effects to it. Take the clip you want in FCP and drop it over blender and the clip is imported into blender. Once done the finished product updates your FCP. About the only thing you really need to be able to upgrade are memory, or storage space. everything else is pretty much an add on.
  10. Ronald Smith 1 year Ago  
    Jose, your comment is fail. Just letting you know that.
  11. Jose L. Rodriguez 1 year Ago  
    The pc has already been reinvented...in the form of tablets.
  12. James Phillips 1 year Ago  
    I don't see what's wrong with it.
  13. coconutz247 1 year Ago  
    another nice read rob. you are right....neither the desktop or laptop is going to die for various reasons. first, there are too many of us that are hooked on a mouse and and keyboard. i can't stand to type on phones or tablets. it's a pain to correct errors and keep inspiration or a train of thought going by having to deal with sausage size thumbs on a dinky iphone or even pecking on a tablet. voice imput, swyping, and suggestive text is likewise distracting and too much wasted time with errors. kids may be able to imput on them in some kind of greek that i can't read. no....just give me a keyboard and mouse. second, the problem with android is there is no operating system for corel painter or photoshop or big fish games. problem with the ipad is that it's not windows, no dongle, no flexibility or choice. thirdly, who can produce anything on a tablet or phone? i'm thinking productivity will eventually outweigh having a fad in your hands. the silly notion of trying to keep up with the jonseses buying something with a "cool factor" never appealed to me. the lightweight, touchscreen, and portability issues are a huge pluses over my old laptop, but that's an easy tech fix. the thing that gripes me most is that computers are becoming like phones. silly me...i liked the old familiar windows 7 desktop and get off the windows 8 start page as soon as i can. coconutz247
    1. I'm pretty much the same way. Used to 8 now but pretty much live in the apps, honestly I didn't live in the old start screen much either. It was just something to get through to go to the apps. Even with surface I use a mouse much of the time, better for highlighting even though I've learned to do it on the screen. So agree, at some point you have to get work done. For instance I drafted my latest column on the plane using Surface RT (gotta love the battery life) and did the final edits and submitted from my desktop when I landed. So much easier on a desktop, but can't take the desktop on a plane and I don't have a laptop that'll do 10 hours and weighs under 3 pounds. So I use both.

  14. osamakhann 1 year Ago  
    We Dont Spend money on broken....
  15. BlooMonkey 1 year Ago  
    1. Good point and I was at the launch for that in Las Vegas. I think its use case needs to be worked out and it lacks the power I think we need at the desk at least until we can get reliable low latency high bandwidth networking everyplace (it is kind of a chubby client). But something like that could become the module we use in all devices.

  16. Ken Bäcklund 1 year Ago  
    I would love to see more dual systems, like Hybrid Android/Win8Pro tablet/convertible/laptop/anomaly.
    The systems should work independently where you could run either or both same time, and either switch screen or run them split screen. But naturally they need a bridge, an easy way to transfer files and data between them. At the very core they should have a device allowing them to share clip board so you could just copy/paste data or files. Shared access to external SD card as well as any connected USB mass storage device.
  17. johnee 1 year Ago  
    I respectfully disagree.

    I have been involved in computing almost as long (25+ years) as Mr. Enderle, and have been enjoying his writings from when they were bound on paper.

    While there is a chance that the traditional desktop (CPU, RAM, HDD, VGA) will remain in the short term, it is truly being run over by the 800 lb gorilla (the Internet).

    Thus we will only need a screen and input method connected to 'the cloud' and we will be on our way.
    Odds are, this will be a smartphone (voice recognition) or tablet (voice/touch). A Chromebook is a stopgap preview of merging yesterday (PC) and cloud connected devices of today.

    Add to that the future possibility of large flexible OLED screens, and 'Google Goggles' type of technology, and I find it very hard to tolerate the KVM (Keyboard Video Mouse) interface of today.

    Everything will have a IP address (car, refrigerator, HDTV, etc.) and nobody wants a mouse or keyboard on those.

    As people get used to using touch and voice, the traditional PC interface will become less tolerable.
    Just look at the beginnings in the rejection of Metro in Windows 8.

    I am a traditionalist, so I am surprised to be saying these things, but the tipping point was when I'm sitting at home on my PC touch typing away at 40+ WPM, and finding that I'm frustrated because I can input text faster if I just grab my Android phone and voice dictate a Gmail or SMS like I do when I'm outside.

    Windows 7 speech is good but not as good as Google on Android. Siri not serious enough.
    1. but...the bandwidth.
      1. How bad is your area broadband?
        Netfilx is already eating up the little that we have in the states.
        That is why Google Fiber is taking root...
  18. roon 1 year Ago  
    Bob, You got it right.....it is all about the ability to re-invent the space that a PC had and still could have....in this case is there a user business case/everyday activity related to a personal computer fixed at home?...and so forth...leonovo is a good start towards it and its transformation as a home device to stay as it has been or to morph into it with additional features........Definitely great article, it is hard to come by articles likes these where you envision the technology and bring out its past and present to put on the table all posibilities in an intelligent and technical manner.................
  19. farticustheelder 1 year Ago  
    I think the obvious next step is to go 64 bit for both CPU and Bus. Right now I can max out a 32 bit bus system for $20, that being 4 Gigs of RAM. In the history of PCs I can't remember ever being able to afford
    max out any system for what is essentially lunch money. And those Android TV sticks, for less than $100?
    They are advancing at a pace to replace (current) desktops in about 18 months. Need more power? Network
    a half dozen or so. I certainly agree that PC makers have dropped the ball.
  20. hahahayeah 1 year Ago  
    PC sales are down because we're broke. You can't spend money you don't have unless you're the US government and you want to start another war.
  21. Rich Gee 1 year Ago  
    PC's are dead. 90% of current users will be moving to a tablet oriented system. The other 10% will be the users who are entering in information or designing for the other 90% - they will still require some type of workstation.

    Let's be honest - most of us use our tech for email, writing, calculations, communication and research/entertainment. Outlook, Word, Excel & Powerpoint have grown so large they are unwieldy. I hazard the average user only leverages 20-30% of their functionality. As other smaller and more flexible systems pick away at these mainstays, you will see the flood of users move quickly to tablets.

    Entertainment is not focused on one simple system - it is distributed across many simple platforms that are cheap and easy to employ. What these users want and need are simple and trouble-free systems - and PC's have regularly show themselves to have neither of these attributes. In fact, an entire ecosystem has grown, matured and thrived on many PC failings (repair, cleaning, virus, etc).
    1. I am sure you know that eventually as the number of users increase you will have repairs, cleaning and viruses etc etc right? PC's dead? do not throw the towel before it is SO...........PC's can be re-invented in many ways.......define what a PC is? mobile, fixed, size power VS user's usability........
  22. Koozee Kingdom 1 year Ago  
    Samsung needs to make a tablet that has a built-in cradle/dock for their cell phones. Then they need to make a pc with a built-in cradle/dock for the tablet. All three would be able to share files and apps and the smaller ones can charge while docked into the larger ones. Seemless integration would not only benefit the user, but benefit Samsung (or another manufacturer) because consumers would presumably purchase all three components. Just a thought. And I agree that the laptop is dead.
    1. hah! I posted a similar statement here: http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/why-hybrids-are-the-future-of-computing/ and get into an argument with the writer.

    2. I am picturing devices nested inside of eachother like Russian dolls.

      There's no way people are going to buy into two docks (or even a single, ugly wired dock for phone/tablet). It's got to be a wireless, cloud based solution. But I don't know if there's a terrible problem here; Google Drive, MS Skydrive, Dropbox etc. all allow you to easily sync your work accross all three platforms without even thinking about it-regardless of the manufacturer of the individual devices.
      1. Apparently there is already something similar to what I was writing about. I am envisioning something like the Asus Padfone 2 with the smartphone and tablet, then a desktop that you can just slap the tablet onto in a similar manner. An easy way to sync all three and charge/store the portables at the same time. http://youtu.be/hEGyx53oMCU
  23. Ran out of names 1 year Ago  
    The PC replaced the mainframe because it had everything (MIPS, RAM, disk, cost, size, hi res display, audio, etc) better than the mainframe had.

    The PC will be replaced by a device that has everything the PC has and better. Today this candidate does not exist yet.
  24. Ian Bell 1 year Ago  

    I don't think the desktop is dying, but I do think it's changing. My guess is that we will see an even greater chasm between all in one systems and tower systems. I think you will see tower systems only through the DIY crowd, boutiques and the workstation markets; the rest will be all in one systems that are just power enough for most home and work users.

    I do think gaming is still dying on the PC. There are very few games out there that force people to plop $2K+ down on a system powerful enough to play them.

    1. True That Mr.Bell...
    2. There isn't much between an 800USD box and a 2k box, in terms of cost-power, so the jump is largely unneeded, unless you're working with rendering...

      A lot of the problems brought up are because a lot of people don't utilize remote tech at all... my wearable + PC is more functional than just about everything out there, and improving daily~
    3. I agree about the desktop changing, however I don't think PC gaming is dying. I believe it is evolving, as consoles move more towards motion based and casual games I think the PC will be where the "hardcore" gaming will go. While it is true the need for a $2k system isn't necessary, I think something like the Steam box or modular PCs will be the next step, powerful enough to play games and do everything else while coming in around today's modern console pricing.
      1. The Steam box does look awesome. The problem with PC gaming is that the user install base is so small compared to consoles. There is little motivation for a developer to make games for the PC.

        The only exception I can think of would be MMO's which are flourishing on the PC.

    4. PC Gaming - Dying since 2004.
      1. A slow death right?

        1. Actually the iPhone and Angry Birds took the Gaming industry by surprise. In 5 short years, the industry is upside down. Just look at the shrinkage of Wii and XBox. Nobody is interested in $399 consoles and $60 game discs...unless you are over 30 years old...
    5. I higly doubt that the PC is dying. Falling sales are just a simptom of people buying hardware thats more fit to their needs. People that want only to check facebook will buy tablets, people that work will remain with the PC with bigger screens and cpu power or laptops if in need of mobility, people that game will remain with pcs simply because what they do no other alternative can do.
      What we see is more like a market adjustment, since theres more viable options of hardware to fulfill consumer demands. Of course the market share of PC will switch to other devices, but to say no one will want to use PC`s anymore is just insane.
  25. Rhurazz_2012 1 year Ago  
    I think that we're going too see hybrids of computers they're already doing it with tablets and laptops, mushing them together, to give you portability, with the processor of a PC. Only trouble is battery life is abysmal (do I see a repeat here that happened years ago?) and they're too expensive to gain penetration in the market right now. I like the idea of having a functional PC my pocket though. Just pop HDMI cable from stick to TV add a functional Bluemont keyboard and voila! instant access to your files in a cloud based software program. Someone will find the answer and drive in the right direction of where to from there..
  26. Clayton Computer 1 year Ago  
    Good insight! For several years we built small white box systems in our area. Then the "evolution" of computers began and custom white box systems became a thing of the past. However, there seems to be a new interest in custom pc's and whitebox systems with a growing request for unique features and configurations. Operating system being chief among these customizations Many small business owners are wanting systems with Linux operating systems. People like freedom of choice. Now if there were only more options in the PC architecture schema. We need to bring innovation back to the PC. This arena is begging for someone to think out of the box.
    1. What do you think is the cause for growing interest in home DIY systems?

  27. Aerobat 1 year Ago  
    I agree. I think one answer is somewhere between a Mac mini an a Raspberry Pi. "But" you say, "where's the monitor and keyboard?"

    Well, how about something like a Raspberry Pi keyboard for your Big Screen TV? I'm not talking about a Logitech box or Google TV, I'm talking about a real Linux computer with decent memory and desktop style apps ... and yes, it can surf and do stuff like the Google or Logitech boxes.

    On top of that, it would be portable because the wireless keyboard could contain all of the system beneath it's keys.

    But there are many other directions a re-envisioned desktop market segment could take on both the high and low end.
    1. You could always use something like the Twiddler or Chordite or peregrine...

      As someone who's used a wearable for 4+ years, a lot of challenges presented have already been conquered, and there's a ton of untapped potential, and the public eye is slowly turning on it with projects like the Pebble, google's Glass, and the like... I have a much more powerful system that's integrated into my home automation and my implants, and while I don't expect those to take off per se, it's amazing how much difference there is between my daily gear and normal "consumer" gear...
    2. u can do all that with a wifi keyboard and an app and it does not have to be Apple....
      1. I said it would be something between a Mac Mini and a Raspbery Pi ... meaning form factor.

        But you can not do "All" of that with a wireless keyboard with just an App. I was speaking of running programs like photoshop/GIMP, office suites, web design, video editing, graphic design ...

        All of that requires an substantial Operating system and a combination of; a respectable flash drive, DRAM and a wireless video conduit to the HD TV (4k HD even better).

        But we do have all of that technology right now so the question is one of market potential (TAM).

        But it would no longer be a "PC"; instead it would be a "Portable Work Station". Nor would it be a "Desktop" as it would probably be wall mounted ... but that's all semantics.
  28. Ken Bäcklund 1 year Ago  
    The beauty of the PC era was the ability to "build" your own computer, it was like adult LEGO and it had kept generations of people occupied intoperfecting whatever rigs they needed.
    For a full PC rebirth I'd love to see the invention of fully modular laptops where manufactures are creating standardized main boards and parts you could mod your laptop to your hearts desire without need of soldering.
    Today basically only the harddrive/SSD is modular. What if new tech would allow you to change graphics card just as easily. Or the cooling system. Granted, a modular laptop like that would most likely be a bit bulkier in beginning, but as tech get smaller this should become possible without resulting in heavy bricks.
    1. The ability to build your own computer was a result of its design that became a way of life no differently the way you have stores to replace batteries and displays for apple and droid handheld devices. Yet it all comes down on how to maximize your profit as a corporation and how much of that ability is left for the masses to take advantage of. I tell you one, no reason Apple could have removable batteries and sd cards...............instead they make you buy at top dollar such EASY upgrading features. It is a simple concept in technology efficiency...Motorola and other phones u can change these no problem. By now Samsung has surpassed Apple's technology and you can purchase batteries and so on........
    2. I really don't think that would be very profitable for the manufacturers.