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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