The tech industry loves pronouncing trends and devices dead, especially ones that have been mature and useful for years. The latest device that’s found itself in decline and heralding a much worse forecast than is probably merited by reality is the PC. As Brian Barrett reports for Wired, 2015 was a rough year for the PC, but not “bad enough to merit the doom and gloom” that has dominated the conversation about the PC’s situation.
Two recent reports, one from Gartner and one from IDC, show a drop in the global PC market of 8% and 10.4% — which sounds bad. But Barrett argues that when you look at what those numbers actually mean, and the context in which they’re presented, “you have a picture of an industry whose death has been greatly exaggerated.” Tracking the “global PC market” involves looking at a huge number of moving parts, and even includes some devices that you might not consider a PC.
Gartner, for instance, includes data on devices like Microsoft’s Surface, while IDC’s does not. (IDC does, however, report that including data on increasingly popular hybrid devices would result in an overall decline of 7.5% for the year, which would bring its findings much closer to Gartner’s.) Nonetheless, the picture isn’t as dire as headlines might leave you to believe, especially when it comes to the PC market in the United States. IDC says that PC shipments fell just 2.6% in 2015 compared to 2014, while Gartner says they fell 2.7%.
Meanwhile, Apple increased its worldwide shipments by 5.8% according to Gartner, or 6.2% according to IDC, trading on the continued appeal of a premium system and masterful marketing. And Lenovo increased its shipments in the U.S. by 14.5%, an increase that Gartner attributes to increasing interest in hybrid or 2-in-1 devices.
And if those numbers still don’t have you convinced, then maybe a common-sense glance around your office will. What devices are people using in the workplace, or even at home when they need to get some serious work done? For the most part, people are still using PCs. Even if the laptop you carry in to the office or the desktop computer you use at home isn’t the most exciting device you use everyday, it’s one that’s pretty difficult to replace.
For that reason alone, it makes sense that declining sales numbers aren’t about people abandoning their PCs. In markets where PC shipments declined more precipitously than they did in the United States, PCs saw price increases thanks to the devaluation of the local currency against the dollar — which makes it easy to put off upgrading an aging PC. That’s a decision that many U.S. customers made, as well, particularly as they were offered free upgrades to Windows 10 on laptops that they might otherwise have replaced.
PC replacements are expected to pick up again in 2016 as commercial adoption of Windows 10 accelerates and as regular consumers realize that the upgrade to Windows 10 can’t fix all of the security and performance issues that they’ve experienced with older devices that originally ran Windows 7 or Windows 8. While mobile devices are continuing to improve at handling the tasks that most people still rely on PCs to complete, premium devices like Microsoft’s Surface Book are likely to prove attractive to users who are slowly upgrading their computers.
While you may rely on your smartphone and tablet when you’re commuting or taking a coffee break at your local Starbucks, instead of dragging out your laptop, chances are pretty good that you break out the laptop or migrate to your desktop computer when you need to edit a spreadsheet, send a lengthy email, or do some serious work with a photo or video editor. Until that changes, you may not replace your PC as often as the industry would like, but the PC probably isn’t going anywhere.