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Is the Era of Desktop PCs Coming to an End?

By Edited Aug 24, 2016 5 17

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.

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

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.



Feb 6, 2016 12:12pm
Smaller and lighter is definitely better. I have transitioned from a desktop to a laptop and it's really great because I can take it with me when I travel and still do my webcam teaching. The only thing is I prefer a proper keyboard and mouse, so I bring them along too.

I'm not sure about a tablet, though. It doesn't seem to have the same functionality.
Feb 7, 2016 4:39am
Thanks Lesley for reading and commenting. I'm dreading the day desktops are ditched (lol). Although I do like my new laptop a lot...I do have a mouse, but I hadn't thought about getting a proper keyboard. Great idea!
Feb 15, 2016 5:20am
Of course, for personal purposes, latops are way more convenient, but speaking about companies and business as a whole, deskopts are still to hold their place. According to Spiceworks report, companies are going to spend the largest share of hardware expenses on desktops. Here are the details: http://gloriumtech.com/blog/spiceworks-report-it-trends-2016/
Feb 17, 2016 1:35am
Interesting report and stats, thanks for sharing.
I agree that businesses are going to be the last to adopt, but I think the industry is eventually going to shift how desktops are constructed, but giving users the same type of experience. I'm guessing it'll take businesses a long time to transition whenever the tech industry does make the leap (Windows XP comes to mind).
Thanks for commenting :)
Mar 15, 2016 2:44pm
I HATE laptops--I feel as if I need to be a Thalidomide baby just to use their cramped keyboards.

We recently picked up an HP all-in-one unit that I like pretty well (though my fave is the desktop I'm working at right now--it's the one I've been using for a few years now, has all my art software, etc., on it).

I simply gotta have a big screen and a full-sized keyboard. As long as I have those two things, I'm good with whatever comes down the pike. Neat piece, thumbin'.
Mar 17, 2016 1:56am
Thanks Vic, appreciate it!
I hope whatever they do they keep the PC experience with the keyboard/mouse. (Although, I'm not too keen on the idea of having to store everything on the cloud; that's another trend I've been resisting).
Mar 17, 2016 2:05am
I don't do "the cloud" at all. Flash drive king here.
Mar 16, 2016 2:13am
I don't think desktops are going to disappear for some time, but I do think they are going to become more. Sure, mobile devices are preferred by many, but casual gaming and social media work on those. I have a desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet, and I simply can't use the latter three for what I use the desktop for - work and PC gaming. A new laptop could replace the desktop, but it would cost a whole lot more for the same power, and I'd still need a bunch of accessories
Mar 17, 2016 2:01am
I hope they are around for a long time. From what I was reading, MS plans to basically link Windows into a smartphone and project it on a bigger screen. I don't do much gaming anymore except the occasional NES hookup, so not sure how this would work there. This article kind of makes it seem like they could feasibly eliminate the tower. http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/29/technology/microsoft-windows-pc/
Thanks so much for commenting!
Mar 17, 2016 2:06am
I think the larger anything is usually better. As you said, the pads, phones, etc., are good for chicken-splat stuff but for real work you need something with all your software on it and with some serious power.
Mar 17, 2016 2:07am
This was for egdcltd--what he said.
Mar 17, 2016 2:40am
My first comment was missing the word "niche" after "more." (I spilled a drink on my keyboard - first time I've ever done that - and it wasn't working correctly.)

Cloud based storage and computing can get around the lack of power problems, but it needs a good internet connection and if everyone went that way, the infrastructure would collapse.

Regarding smartphone accessories, I think I actually wrote an article a few years back on the same subject. Although I believe smartphones will eliminate other mobile technology before desktops.
Mar 20, 2016 2:53am
That's an angle I hadn't thought about (I store everything locally too). Food for thought, thanks.
Is your article here on IB? I'd love to check it out.
Mar 19, 2016 6:18am
I am old school and love my desktop! I prefer a real keyboard. That being said, I do miss the portability of laptop since my computer is in the kitchen where there is lots of noise and I cannot write. This summer I will get a laptop so I can work anywhere in the house where the kids are not! Also, as my eyes get older, the small screens are not easy for me to see.

I am not a cloud fan, either.
Mar 20, 2016 3:10am
Thank you Hannah for reading and commenting.
If you're checking out laptops, you might like a touchscreen. I got a laptop last year and ended up with a touchscreen. I love how when I can't read something I can just reach out and enlarge it.
Mar 24, 2016 8:13pm
I'm actually quite grateful that desktops are becoming significantly less popular, only because this makes their price drop just as much as their popularity. Desktop computers will (for the present moment) always be more powerful than laptops or any manner of a mobile device; despite the convenience mobile and laptops give, there's nothing like the satisfaction of raw power for PC gamers or 3D animation. Only because a mass majority of children and young adults still play PC games on a daily basis do I believe that the desktop is not going to just vanish. Maybe 50~100 years later at the end of my generation would desktops vanish completely, after all we've had cassette tape players since the 1920s I think and we still use those today!
Mar 30, 2016 8:16am
That's a good point. Also those VHS, while maybe the tapes are not typically found in stores new, you can still buy a player I think. We got a DVD/VHS combo a few years ago.
I still have a cassette player too, but I haven't used it in years. I'm pretty slow to adapt to technology (still don't have a smartphone), but some things I have let go :)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting gameseeker. Appreciate it!
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  1. "Gartner Says Worldwide PC Shipments Declined 7.7 Percent in Third Quarter of 2015." Gartner. 8/10/2015. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  2. "Gartner: Global PC shipments fell 8.3% in Q4 2015, Apple only company in top 5 to see growth." Venture Beat. 12/01/2016. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  3. "Microsoft just showed off the future of the PC." CNN Money. 29/04/2015. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  4. "Microsoft just showed us that the future of the PC is no PC at all." Business Insider. 29/04/2015. 6/02/2016 <Web >

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