"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." --Mark Twain
With all the attention that mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are getting recently, you'd think that the personal computer was a thing of the past. In fact, recent headlines like R.I.P. PC and The PC Boom is Over as Smartphones and Tablets Take Over do make it sound like the PC apocalypse is here. While it's true that the rate of PC unit growth doesn't match that of smartphones and tablets, assuming the growth of one means the complete destruction of the other is very simplistic and headline grabbing. The PC isn't dead yet and will continue to play a major role for years to come for a couple of key reasons:
- Size. The PC installed base is greater than 1.5B worldwide today
- Software. Like it or not, productivity software like Microsoft Office is part of daily business
With an installed base greater than 1.5 billion units worldwide, PCs continue to maintain a healthy footprint. In fact, the latest IDC PC forecast has global annual PC shipments staying flat at 314 million in 2013 and 319 million in 2017. When compared to the dramatic growth of mobile devices, flat PC growth seems anemic. What the headlines aren't stating is that the installed base for PCs will continue to be in the 1.5 billion range for the foreseeable future, starting now. Smartphones are selling over one billion units per year now and are set to pass 1.7 billion units per year in 2017 -- but comparing smartphone units to PCs is like comparing Emeril Lagasse to McDonald's. IDC's tablet forecast is 227 million units sold in 2013 with more than 400 million by 2014 -- even at that rate, tablets will just get close to the PC installed base by 2014. What does this mean? It means over the next four years, PCs will still play a major role in the daily lives of information workers, who are consumers also, worldwide.
With all the talk of Facebook and Twitter, you would think that all digital consumers do all day long is look at social media. In fact, research powerhouses like comScore and Nielsen published reports that confirm that social media, email, and messaging continue to be top activities on mobile devices. Instead of looking at consumer research reports, take a look around your office. What are people using to do work? A vast majority of workplace activities include creating (documents, numbers), communicating (email, IM, presentations) and consuming (video, social). If you look at the majority of people that are creating, they aren't creating on smartphones or tablets. They are creating on something with a keyboard and a large monitor. Most information workers utilize software like Microsoft Office -- Outlook and Lync for communications and Excel, Word, and PowerPoint for creation. If you think the PC is dead, try writing a complex document with multiple changes on a tablet. Or try to update a financial model on a smartphone -- it doesn't work. It's no wonder that Google continues to dabble in its Chromebook experiments. Net, core productivity scenarios require the right mix of hardware (keyboards, screens) and more importantly software like Microsoft Office and Apple's iWork. IT managers aren't going to move away from computers anytime soon -- if you need to work, you need a PC.
Like it or not, PCs are here to stay. The PC installed base is over 1.5 billion users today, not in four years for tablets. PC users are busy creating today, spending significant amounts of time at the office creating and communicating with colleagues around the world. And although the time consumers spend on mobile devices now equals that of PCs, creation and communication scenarios will continue to exist. A core takeaway for the ever-manic marketing ecosystem that is constantly trying to reach consumers: don't accelerate the demise of the PC. It is still a compelling channel and a screen that most information workers utilize every day. Our dialogue shouldn't be about a mobile-only world. We are in a multi-platform world in which PCs will continue to play a significant role.