By many reports, the PC industry is dying. I maintain that it is not; it’s just evolving. As a technology marketer, it’s important to understand this evolution, and that the future embraces multiple devices, from phone and tablet to PC. Developers now serve multiple devices.

PC industry

(This is the original IBM 5150. In my part-time job in high school I serviced these. Back in my day, young whippersnapper, RAM came in sleeves and you had to push each chip into the socket.)

An article in the Sunday New York Times this week reported that tablet sales continue to affect PC sales. (It’s a well-written article and a quick read; I advise you to read it. I can wait here, go ahead.) It explains,

“While sales of PCs to businesses remain steady, demand among consumers has plunged, largely because people are instead buying iPads, Kindle Fires and other tablets.

Still, a reality check: more than 300 million PCs are expected to be shipped this year globally. That is a lot of widgets for a business that has caught a cold.

The same article reports 200 million tablets projected to ship this year, more than the number of laptops projected to ship.

Here’s my take: the PC market is affected by three trends.

1. The PC is becoming a creation tool, particularly for businesses but also for the new breed of home or independent business or artist. People who make things still rely on PCs, be they laptops or desktops, to do so. Graphic design, music, art — all on PCs. Sure, you can do some of this on tablets, but the interface doesn’t support that level of control. Obviously, businesses use PCs primarily.

Developers do their work on PCs. I don’t see this changing significantly. Development requires powerful devices — multicore processors, lots of RAM, and copious storage. Developers need giant display screens.

2. People are choosing the right device for their needs. In the past, some folks might have bought laptops for social use, or for playing games with friends. Many of the kids I know used laptops largely for Netflix! Adults who use their PCs for similar purposes find tablets are often a better and more portable choice. Some light email? Great. A little Facebook? No problem. A movie? Pinterest? Catching up on the news? All great usage scenarios for a tablet. Detailed, professional-grade creation? That’s the PC’s job.

3. People are postponing — or extending — the PC upgrade cycle. For everyday use, technology has not made major leaps — major enough, at least, to justify a major new purchase. if you’re a business traveler, the new ultralight and long-battery-life laptops make sense. If you’re a demanding user, faster processors make sense. But for most folks, an inexpensive PC still represents more than enough power for most everyday uses. It’s also likely that people buy a tablet to take along with them and put off a laptop or desktop upgrade for another year. (For that matter, it’s hard to find a consumer desktop to buy compared to past years.)

So here’s my opinion: PCs will be with us for many many years to come. But their nature will change so that they’re no longer the only way people consume or create. Marketers need to understand this multi-device future to understand the demands on software developers to support multiple devices. This suggests both market opportunities (help them solve their problems) and a way to market to address customer needs and concerns.

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