Computer technology has seen some remarkable changes over the years, but as mobile devices continue to dominate, this has significantly changed the tech landscape. Over the past five years many have wondered when and/or if the day when the desktop PC is retired is coming around the bend.

The desktop PC as we know it is absolutely going to change and eventually be gone for good. Maybe not tomorrow, next year or even the year after that, but based on the direction the industry  is going, it appears to be just a matter of time. For instance, back in 2010 statistics suggested many people still preferred the comfortable and familiar desktop. However, with the newer and more mobile technologies, including wearables, that have arrived since that time things have changed. If the direction the tech giants are taking, coupled with the staggering growth of mobile, are any indicators that time is just around the corner.

According to Gartner, worldwide PC shipments declined 7.7 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2015 when compared with the same quarter in 2014. 1 A Venture Beat report indicated when the 4th quarter rolled around, the industry fell to 8.3 percent (except Apple - who was the outlier). 2

Mobile devices are extremely popular, in the not so far past the number of gadgets reached a point where it outpaced the number of humans in the world. The market demand for mobile only supports the idea that consumers love convenience and portability.

Mobile phone and laptop
Credit: Johan Larsson via Flickr/CC by 2.0

A desktop really does not fit into this philosophy and, chances are, eventually the familiar boxes may go the wayside much like other technologies have in the past. For those that still want the large screens and do not need portability, consider how easily the newer televisions can be linked to the Internet these days. Towers aren't even needed.

Initial Transition to Mobile

Years ago laptops were the prominent mobile device, but even these portable computers are considered clunky by today's standards. Laptop makers have had to go smaller, slimmer and lighter in order to survive. Manufacturers have also turned towards adding touch screens and other tablet-like features. Some even serve as a dual laptop/tablet. Figure other mobile devices and wearable gadgets also are a large part of daily computing experiences these days - computer manufacturers have to create innovative ways to both keep up and to keep consumers interested in their products.

As wireless, voice recognition and touch technologies continue to progress, society has seen a huge transformation in the kinds of innovation that is emerging in tech. For instance, back in 2010 when Microsoft revealed its Kinect, the idea of a control-free video game brought up other buzzing questions relating to traditional computing capabilities.

xBox 360 Kinect
Credit: closari via Flickr/CC by 2.0

If gaming reached the point where players can directly interact without a controller or other device, but instead rely on movement and sound of the human body in front of a sensor to play, theoretically can't the same thing occur with a regular computer? The technology is clearly available, and natural interaction had already long been accomplished. So why are these technologies not yet mainstream in regular, good old-fashioned desktop PCs?

There is at least one reason which is a plausible explanation.

Humans are Slow to Change

Over the years the technology industry has been steadily moving in a new direction, and the obstacles are no longer as prominent. The bigger hindrance is humans adjusting to these changes and costs of the newer technology. However, in time these resistances are likely to come down as higher demands for these products are made.  Gradually, consumers will move away from traditional PCs. 

As one example, I just look at myself. I am truly a desktop kind of gal who can’t function and do work without a mouse and keyboard.  In the evenings though, I use a laptop when relaxing, surfing, reading the news or maybe to do some light research. After using a tablet for a few months for surfing, when I went back to a laptop I automatically reached for the screen. My new laptop does happen to have touchscreen, but it was something I wasn't even shopping for. Just happened to be a fabulous sale going on and it was pretty much the same price as the non-touch, so I figured why not? But the fact that I automatically went for the screen with my hand surprised me, especially since I am far more comfortable on my desktop.

It made me wonder if I could touch my desktop screen to do certain tasks, would it be that hard to change habits? I think for typing maybe, but web search and other tasks, perhaps not so much.

[ Related Reading: What Would Happen if Technology Ceased to Exist? ]

Where Does the Future of the Desktop Lie?

Will the desktop end up as an extinct device? While still in the desktop market, years ago Apple had already taken the leap to move away from the “personal computer” and had successfully gotten a jump on the a mobile future with its iPods, iPads and iPhones. At this point Microsoft, usually considered a leader, had fallen behind in some ways. However, as it demonstrated its innovation with Kinect, the tech giant may simply be taking a different path to the future in order to nurture consumers in a new direction without putting too much "in your face" change at once.

Voice and touch technologies have vastly improved in the last decade and, since Microsoft is primarily a software company, as these applications and programs are written to interact with hardware, the possibilities are endless. It is important not to discount Microsoft because while Apple has long had a good thing going with its advances in mobile technology, Microsoft still does have majority of the PC market and many, especially businesses, are heavily invested in their products. They are likely open to the less expensive gradual change rather than full-fledged change.

Desktop computer and peripherals
Credit: Marc Climent via Flickr/CC by 2.0

The tech industry is seeking to eliminate all the excess. One day this table might have just a mobile phone and a screen positioned on it with maybe a couple of peripherals attached if needed.

Over the course of time voice and touch applications will be likely be added to desktop PCs to bridge the eventual transition to smaller and more portable devices to lower consumer resistance. What this may entail is eliminating the mouse and keyboard so users can directly interact with their desktop before making the big leap to newer ways of computing that do not use these peripherals.

But until that time it seems Microsoft has a plan. In April 2015 in a CNN piece entitled "Microsoft just showed off the future of the PC", the computer giant showed how it could effectively turn a mobile experience into a PC one by shifting Windows 10 running on the phone to use in conjunction with a monitor, mouse and keyboard.  It's called Continuum for Phones. 3 Another piece by Business Insider highlights the hologram technologies Microsoft is working on. 4

The one thing constant in life is change. And the technology will continue to evolve and progress at a rapid rate. As newer and more innovative inventions arise, older innovations are retired. The traditional desktop tower has seen its prime, but is slowly likely heading towards retirement, as least in the form we are familiar with.

The biggest question is when will it happen for good? What do you think? Are you ready for the world to ditch the desktop?

Update 2018

It seems as if the traditional PC still has some life yet. Towards the end of 2017, in a Financial Times article, it was reported Gartner predicted PCs would see an uptick in sales during 2018, particularly in the business space and in international markets, specifically Russia and China. [5] That being said, overall prices of PCs declined in 2017 by 2.8 percent. Also affecting the market is evolution of tech, such as more applications moving into the cloud as opposed to traditional desktop software. This will likely have a significant impact on the market as tech continues to progress and how businesses and households respond to these changes.

So, at this point the future of PCs still seems unclear, but if they do survive, it's for certain what we perceive as traditional PCs is well likely to change. As artificial intelligence and augmented reality continue to insert their way into our technologies, it's going to have an impact, ready or not. 

Desktop with technology
Credit: John December via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Perhaps not so far in the distant future, all of these technologies will possibly be consolidated into two - a phone and a large screen.