PC Makers Continue to Innovate Despite Slowing Market

New and upgraded systems from Microsoft, Apple and Lenovo illustrate myriad new capabilities and technologies OEMs are driving into notebooks and desktops.

Lenovo PC

The numbers say the global PC market is still on the wane. System shipments have been on the decline for several years, a trend that continued in the third quarter when the numbers dropped by as much as 5.7 percent, according to industry analysts.

However, OEMs are still putting a lot of time and resources behind their PC efforts, creating a highly competitive environment where innovation is thriving and emerging technologies—such as speech and gesture controls, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)—promise to drive new capabilities in client systems.

That, combined with faster processors, high-end graphics, new form factors and features in operating systems including Microsoft's Windows 10, promises to give consumers and business users reasons to again embrace PCs, which have been around for more than three decades.

"PCs are far from dead," Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst with Technalysis Research, told eWEEK. "They're still relevant, still important to a lot of people, and they're still being innovated on. … If I'm working on something that needs a lot of screen real estate, nothing beats a PC. There's a lot of action happening in PCs."

PCs were at the forefront of much of the news last week. Apple refreshed its Macbook Pro with a new line of systems that included a new design, a larger and more accurate track pad, an upgraded keyboard and more powerful processors from Intel. There's a Touch Bar above the keyboard designed to give users more control over their applications, a Touch ID sensor for logging in without a password and a display that Apple officials called their best ever.

The day before, Microsoft launched a series of new Surface devices—the Surface Pro 4, all-in-one Surface Studio desktop and the Surface Book i7 laptop—in a bid that industry observers said was a push by company officials to lure creative users that historically have embraced Apple systems. The tech vendor also introduced new creative features in Windows 10, including Creators Update (code-named Redstone 2), featuring a new Paint 3D app and support for 3D models in Office to help popularize the creation of 3D content. In addition, OEMs including HP Inc., Acer, Dell, Asus and Lenovo are developing Windows-based VR headsets that will debut next year for about $300.

In addition, Lenovo unveiled new notebook and desktop systems that will be powered by Advanced Micro Devices' 7th Generation Pro accelerated processing units (APUs), code-named "Bristol Ridge Pro" and launched in September. They join systems from HP Inc. that also run on the Bristol Ridge Pro chips, and illustrate AMD's renewed push to erode some of Intel's dominance in the commercial PC processor market. At the same time, Lenovo—the world's largest PC vendor by shipment—and Fujitsu officials confirmed negotiations between the two vendors around a "strategic cooperation" for Fujitsu's PC business.

All this comes after Dell officials at the Dell EMC World show stressed the continued importance of PCs in the company's larger enterprise IT strategy. Jeff Clarke, vice chairman of operations and president of Client Solutions at Dell, told journalists that technologies such as VR, AR and speech and voice recognition will drive new innovations. Clark also noted that despite the contraction in the worldwide PC market, there are still 200 million or so systems that are sold every year, and that previous predictions that tablets would replace PCs were "hogwash," noting declines in tablet sales. There also has been a slowing in smartphone shipments as the markets mature.

"Many of our business customers realize that tablets don't replace a notebook," he said. "They complement it, but they don't replace it."