It's a 'PC-Plus,' Rather Than a 'Post-PC,' World, Analysts Say
To be fair, Jobs' idea in 2007 of a post-PC world didn't mean one where PCs didn't exist, but one where PCs would "continue to be with us and morph with us, whether it's a tablet or a notebook or … a big curved desktop that you have at your house or whatever it might be." Bob O'Donnell, IDC's program vice president of clients and displays, said what the industry is entering is a "PC-plus" era, where tablets and smartphones are used alongside PCs. Very few people use only their PCs for work these days, but neither are there many who can use only a tablet or smartphone for work. "When you think about what's going on in the market, you're seeing a high surge in tablets, you're seeing a high surge in smartphones, and the PC market is tanking, and it makes sense to see a post-PC world," O'Donnell told eWEEK. "The reality is that the PC is a still a very important device. The problem is, when you get these other devices, [users'] spending on a PC goes down 25 to 30 percent typically." The result is that the traditional lifetime of a PC goes from four years to five, essentially shaving 20 percent off yearly sales. (Most PCs sold are replacements for older ones, O'Donnell said, noting that few people now are buying their first PCs.) In 2010, the market saw 365 million PCs sold globally. This year, that will be more like 315 million, O'Donnell said. If the 20 percent mark holds, that would mean PC sales will hit the floor as they dip under 300 million, which means the industry can expect a few more years of declining numbers before they stabilize."Tablets are taking on a more complementary role," he said, noting that while people use a tablet for certain tasks—from social media to email to Web surfing—the heavy-duty work is still done on PCs. Actually, the more interesting looming battle will be between smartphones and tablets, O'Donnell predicted. The trend in tablets is toward smaller screens, away from the 10-inch models and toward 7 to 9 inches. At the same time, the screens on smartphones are getting larger, growing beyond five inches and creating what some are calling "phablets." As the screen sizes of the devices come closer to each other, users will begin questioning the need for both, he said. Throw in the fact that smartphones already come with 4G capabilities—while many tablets are still WiFi-only—and the trend could spell trouble for low-end tablets. "If I've got a five-and-a-half-inch smartphone, why the hell would I buy a tablet?" O'Donnell asked.
But they're not going away, he said. Citing a joint study with Intel of 4,000 U.S. consumers, O'Donnell said that 97 percent of respondents said their primary computing device was a PC, with the other 3 percent saying a tablet.