The future of the PC

Read time 8min 50sec
Thibault Dousson, Lenovo.
Thibault Dousson, Lenovo.

Approximately 12 200 people are wrongly declareddead by mistake every year in the United States, often thanks to a typo. The PC has had the same dubious honour, if not as often. In 2010, American writer (and Pulitzer finalist) Nicholas Carr declared the PC officially dead when the iPad was revealed. The same death knell has been sounded repeatedly over the years. In fact, the PC has died so many times that there’s probably a virtual cemetery filled with tiny little PC tombstones. It’s also very much fake news.

In the first quarter of 2021, PC shipments grew by 13% as compared to the same period in 2020, and the big names of Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple and Asus dominated the market. According to Statista, global PC shipments are expected to reach 67.1 million in 2022 and 76.1 million by 2025. The research firm defines the PC as the desktop unit, not as laptops or notebooks, while Gartner defines it as server, desk-based and mobile PCs, which reflects in the different number values and assessments over a five-year period. In November 2021, Gartner revealed that PC shipments had reached 339.8 million units at an increase of 9.9% compared with 2020. As of January 2022, this had hit a decline of 5%, but not due to the sudden death of the device, but to lingering supply chain issues, among other challenges.

Gartner and Statista are not alone. In January 2022, IDC found that PC shipments towards the end of the last quarter of 2021 had exceeded their highest level as far back as 2012, and that this continues to be a return to form for the technology. These surges in demand are as much driven by the desire to own a PC as by the global pandemic, although the latter certainly has played no small role in changing PC gears over the past two years. And while supply chain shortages will set the stage for declining numbers in the first two quarters of 2022, it’s a false picture of a living technology that has plenty to offer the commercial and consumer markets.

Flexible and agile

In a Forrester analysis titled ‘State of Consumers and Technology’, the research firm found that consumers are ‘doubling down on technology usage and investment’ with a significant percentage investing in home technology solutions designed to support remote working and living. This trend saw the industry boom, and it’s going to hold onto this boom well into the future as users are very likely to continue using the PCs that they’ve spent time and money on building.

To keep the PC alive in the minds of more people after this resurgence, PC makers must now innovate at a faster pace.

Matthew Hall, Rectron South Africa

It's also not just the pandemic that’s thrusting the PC back into the limelight. It’s also its ubiquity. These devices fit so very neatly into so many different niches. There’s the gamers – their rigs are designed to handle immense graphics and processing power and the demand for gaming has only increased over the past few years. Then there’s the heavyweight PC that handles the massive burdens that come with imagery, graphics, and video content production. Finally, there’s the fact that the PC, in and of itself, is a flexible and agile beast that can be customised to fit precisely what the user needs today, and then changed to fit an entirely new set of needs the very next day. Other than current issues crippling supply, the PC’s component parts are easy to get, quick to swap, and cost-effective to maintain. It’s a reliable, agile and scalable platform that can fit into most budgets – consumer and business – and can be adapted to transition into almost any environment.

At the end of that cliched day, the PC isn’t so much dead as enjoying its second, very healthy life. If it were a person, it would be doing CrossFit and enjoying smug smoothies that fill it with tasty silicon power.


The smug revival of the devicethat wasn’t dead

Brainstorm: Will the desktop PC continue to make a comeback in 2022? Why?

Matthew Hall, chief of products, Rectron South Africa: While 2020 and 2021 were massive years for the PC market, thanks to the worldwide pandemic necessitating work-from-home technology, PCs will remain an essential enabler for business and people. The advantages of using a desktop computer as a base of operations for work, school, and yes, even for play — and one that can be used in an isolated, dedicated, and controllable manner — will make PCs an appealing choice for parents.

Thibault Dousson, GM, Lenovo: Another reason why desktop PCs are growing in popularity is because of their continuous innovation. AI will continue to play a big role in this space and, most recently, foldable PCs became a trend to watch out for.

Chris Buchanan, client solutions director, Dell Technologies South Africa: AI will make PC usage more seamless, customised and hassle-free. It will hurdle common tech challenges, like connecting to the local network or setting up a printer. Imagine ubiquitous connectivity and a continuous experience that translates across all your preferred devices so you can always pick up where you left off. Think about having a personal AI assistant on your PC to help manage your work and home life – a trusted PC that becomes a reliable assistant.

Steven Pieterse, director, Metisware: People are also moving to creating lots more online content. PCs offer a cheaper way to enter this market and high-end laptops (which are difficult to come by and very expensive) have a lower barrier to entry.

Brainstorm: How will the form factor of PCs evolve?

Grace Munyi, research analyst: PCD, IDC Middle East, and Africa: The Chromebook market is still nascent in South Africa. Education sector demand has accelerated Chromebook uptake, with the market seeing a gradual increase in the volumes quarter on quarter. Moving forward, factors such as affordability and supporting infrastructure like reliable electricity and internet connection will be key drivers of the device's uptake across urban and rural areas.

Matthew Hall, Rectron South Africa: Technology is ever-evolving regardless of the current market conditions. New technologies are emerging, with ground-breaking innovations to tackle world issues. To keep the PC alive in the minds of more people after this resurgence, PC makers must now innovate at a faster pace. Now, and into 2022, you can expect many more full-HD cameras in laptops from Lenovo, Dell and others. It won't be in every model, as it's still an additional expense and may require a larger camera unit, but it gets closer to becoming the universal standard every day. And whether you're working from home, in an office, or both, that's a good thing.

Thibault Dousson, Lenovo: In terms of form factor, we can expect little change. There’s still high demand for standard-sized PCs, even though many consumers are finding smaller PCs attractive due to new innovations, such as more powerful performance in this form factor. The standard-sized PC will always have its place in the market, thanks to continuous software and feature enhancements, as well as the big screen advantage.

Brainstorm: How will the chip shortage impact the South African PC market?

Fouad Charakla, senior research manager: PCD, IDC Middle East, Turkey, and Africa: It has negatively impacted the PC market as stock supply reduced, leading to a huge backlog of orders across all vendors. It also led to an increase in PC prices. However, based on the H2 2021 PC performance, the shortage challenge is getting resolved as vendors have been using various strategies to achieve a high stock allocation. While the chip shortage persists, IDC anticipates the improvement in supply trend to continue in 2022, which will lead to downward pressure in PC prices and increase competition.

The standard-sized PC will always have its place in the market, thanks to continuous software and feature enhancements, as well as the big screen advantage.

Thibault Dousson, Lenovo

Matthew Hall, Rectron South Africa: The stay-at-home era caused by the Covid-19 pandemic pushed demand beyond levels projected by chipmakers. Lockdowns spurred growth in sales of laptops to its highest in a decade. Home-networking devices, webcams and monitors were bought as office work moved out of the office. Unfortunately, shortages of some key components and devices continue to be a challenge. Vendors that are able to manage the supplies of these components will benefit from this opportunity more as there’s still a lot of untapped demand for PCs in the country.

Thibault Dousson, Lenovo: Shortages of semiconductors remain a global challenge for the entire industry and we see this continuing through to the second half of 2022, driven by continuing high demand across the technology sector.

Chris Buchanan, Dell Technologies South Africa: A report from consulting firm Deloitte predicts the semiconductor shortage to last until early 2023, and customers will still be waiting 10 to 20 weeks for multiple types of chips by the end of 2022. However, the shortage will be less severe and will drive fresh investment in the industry as demand continues to grow.

Brainstorm: What will be the future of the PC over the next five years?

Fouad Charakla, IDC Middle East, Turkey, and Africa: PC demand is expected to continue to grow in South Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to a number of factors, including the largely underserved population in rural areas, the high ratio of youths who require IT literacy and education, and the increasing digitisation of the government sector.

Chris Buchanan, Dell Technologies South Africa: The PC-as-a-Service (PCaaS) model is here to stay. In this work-from-anywhere world, flexible working models make remote PC management a business-critical investment. PCaaS represents a new chapter in business operations and, enabled by extraordinary technology advances, it has the potential to change the way we live, work and collaborate with one another.”

* This feature was first published in the April edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.

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