The Desktop PC: Will it be shunned in favor of Laptops, Tablets and Smartphones?

Over at CNET, Rick Broida writes, “Does it still make sense to buy a desktop PC? – Once a computing staple, the tower PC now holds little appeal for most mainstream users. Who’s still buying them?” Even I, an old school PC user going back over two decades, have mostly shunned the desktop PC in favor of my laptop, my iPad and my iPhone — that is, for personal use. At work I still have the standard issue tower PC along with two monitors. At home I also have a tower PC with two monitors, but it is only used for photo editing and audio recording. For just about every other task I do on a computer, including writing articles for this blog, I use my laptop or my iPhone. Strangely I haven’t yet written an article from my iPad, although since getting the work-issued iPhone, the iPad hasn’t gotten much use.

Laptop sales first eclipsed desktop sales back in 2008, and that was pretty much the beginning of the end for desktop superiority. What brought about the change? Simple: laptop prices dropped close to desktop levels, and performance disparities became less severe — and less of an issue.

There is no question about it, laptops are now ultra-affordable. In fact, once you factor in the cost of a monitor in addition to the cost of the desktop PC, a functionally equivalent laptop could be cheaper, especially for the average computer user who doesn’t need anything more than a browser and a few other basic productivity applications. If you are a hardcore gamer or a video editor, a desktop PC is still going to be the best choice if you want the most horsepower for your money. And if you are someone who wants nearly endless expansion options whether it be a Hollywood movie style wall of monitors or a small cityscape of hard drives, the desktop PC is still going to be your choice as well.

But is the average computer user still going to buy a desktop PC? Apparently many are, but the numbers are definitely dwindling. As Broida reports in his story, 2008 was the first year laptops outsold desktops, a trend that is not likely to reverse. Even more interesting is what role tablets will play in not only furthering the decline of the desktop PC but also replacing the PC altogether (desktop and laptop).

It’s that very combination of portability and minimalist computing needs that will likely see tablets take the place of laptops in the coming years. So check back in, say, early 2015, when I’ll probably be asking, “Does it still make sense to buy a laptop?”

Even in 2012 you can find people who have started to answer “no” to that question. For myself, I can’t ever imagine a time when I would no longer have a traditional PC (desktop or laptop) but with technology it’s hard to predict the future. There could be innovations that come along that completely change how we think of computers and what form they take.

So have you shunned the desktop PC in favor of a laptop, a tablet or even a smartphone?

photo by Daniel Oines

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