What will happen to the PCs of yore?

Jun 17, 2016, 2:41 PM EDT
PCs. (Source: Adrian/flickr)
PCs. (Source: Adrian/flickr)

While it’s been common knowledge for several years that the PC era is on the decline, no analyst or research firm has been able to tell just how swiftly the global PC markets will drop off and what will become of them. Coupled with the projections for the slowdown of the smartphone market as well, the figures for the PC market through 2020 leave many wondering what the next few years will hold for desktops, laptops, and mobile. Research from the IDC last week reports that worldwide PC shipments are forecast to decline by 7.3% year over year in 2016, with detachable tablets presenting a new layer of competition. 

The IDC points out that growth rates for devices such as phones and tablets continue to fall, potentially reducing the competition for PCs, but so far there is no evidence of that supposition. "We have not seen this translate into stronger PC shipments,” writes the IDC in its statement. 

Jay Chou, research manager, Worldwide PC Tracker, stated: ”Although inventory has improved in some markets, channels remain extremely conservative. The economic and competitive pressures are particularly affecting the consumer segment, which is projected to see another year of double-digit declines in 2016, and decline throughout the forecast.”

The detachable tablets, such as Microsoft Surface, present a "growing challenge" to the PC market "as specs and price increasingly compare favorably against notebook PCs,” notes the IDC. Commercial shipments of PCs are on a slower decline than consumer ones, but the continued use of PCs by businesses is not enough to stabilize the market. In the education sector, Chromebooks are successful, and Windows 10 is still being tested by organizations, but neither of these boosts can reverse the imminent decline of the PC. 

Political uncertainty and economic instability are two major factors that have contributed to the decline of the PC over the years, and kept the decline on its downward slope. In April, a Gartner report stated that the deterioration of local currencies against the U.S. dollar played a major role in the decline of worldwide PC shipments of 9.6% in the first quarter of 2016. Emerging markets are continuing to trend towards mobile devices to connect to the internet and do business because they are less expensive than the PC. All of these factors that the PC market saw several years ago during its first downturns remain to give it trouble. As the era of the internet of things emerges, uncertainty remains about what will happen to the desktops and laptops of yore.