Death of the Personal Computer with the Rise of Other Technology

Death of the Personal Computer with the Rise of Other Technology

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If you peruse the technical news headlines, 2013 has been declared, at best, the turning point and, at worst, the death of the personal computer (PC). The rise of the smartphone, modern gaming console, tablet, and cloud computing have apparently served as successive nails in the proverbial coffin of the PC. International Data Corporation (IDC) shows a 10.1% drop in PC shipments this year, which is “by far the most severe yearly contraction on record” (2013). On the surface this is a dire prediction, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the PC’s death may be greatly exaggerated.
Economy and Refresh Cycle
Traditionally, corporations maintained a 3 year computer refresh cycle, swapping out a third of the laptops and desktops every year. The perfect storm combination of a prolonged economic downturn and the rise of virtual computing and computing as a service have shifted this paradigm. IDC has seen the lifespan of the average corporate desktop increase by a full year to 4.88 years since the last study in 2010 (2012). Santos, a Gartner analyst, suggests the future may bring refresh cycles of 10 years or longer (2012).
The lengthening of refresh cycles have been enabled due to the high performance of today’s processors. Computer performance has reached the point where it is simply no longer necessary to buy a new machine every two to three years to run the latest software. The most telling example of this is the CPU recommendation for the various Microsoft operating systems as specified by Microsoft:
Operating System Release Date Recommended CPU
Windows XP 10/2001 300 MHz (2013A)
Windows Vista 11/2006 800 MHz (2013B)
Windows 7 7/2009 1 GHz (2013C)
Windows 8 10/20012 1GHz (2013D)

By Microsoft’s own specifications, their latest desktop operating system (OS) will run on the same class of machine as their previous OS from three years ago. A quick review of specifications from other software manufacturers show a similar plateauing of system requirements. The traditional computer is not dead, but the push to upgrade is no longer an imperative due the performance of modern processors. As a result, the IDC numbers do not represent a death of the computer, but instead show corporations are capitalizing on the longer useful lifespan.
Definition and Ecosystems
Diving into the details of the IDC report provides more evidence as to why the PC is not dying any time soon. IDC classifies laptop style machines with detachable keyboards and displays less than 18” as tablets (2013).

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Take two computers with the same 14” display, CPU, hard drive, and operating system. If one has a permanently attached keyboard while the other has a removable keyboard, they now fall into completely different classes of machine. One is a computer while the other is now in the same category as the Apple iPad and various Android tablets.
We have moved into an era where advancements in technology have made compact, powerful technology affordable. The computer is no longer the ubiquitous grey box under the desk. It is now the smartphone in your pocket, the tablet in your hand, the notebook on your lap, the gaming console in your living room, and the desktop in your office. We now have a complete computing ecosystem with various form factors adapted to differing needs. The same functions and types of software can be run on each device, in many cases even the exact same program.

Conclusion
The computer has undergone a similar transformation as other platforms such as the automobile. The Chevrolet Corvette and Jeep Cherokee of today may look radically different from the Model T Ford of the last century, however they did not “kill” the automobile. Instead, the definition of an automobile evolved to fit the new specialized versions of what came before. Each performs the same sort of task but in a very different manner. The new form factors have not killed the computer, they have simply broadened the term.


Works Cited

International Data Corporation (2012). PC review: December 2012 [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=238427
International Data Corporation (2013). IDC forecasts pc shipments to fall by double digits in 2013 [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS24466513
Microsoft. (2013a). System requirements for Windows XP operating systems. Retrieved from http://support.microsoft.com/kb/314865
Microsoft. (2013b). System requirements for Windows Vista. Retrieved from http://support.microsoft.com/kb/919183
Microsoft. (2013c). Windows 7 system requirements. Retrieved from http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/system-requirements
Microsoft. (2013d). System requirements Windows 8. Retrieved from http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/system-requirements
Santos, J. (2012, October 15). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://blogs.gartner.com/jack-santos/2012/10/15/are-10-12-year-pc-refresh-cycles-on-the-horizon/

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