CES 2015: Death of Laptop, Desktop PCs Isn't About to Happen

NEWS ANALYSIS: There is a renewed interest in laptops and desktop this year at the CES, and the manufacturers are ready for the attention.

An awful lot of smartphones continue to sell each year as old ones die and new ones become hot items -- all told, a shade more than 1 billion in 2013 worldwide, and an expected 1.3 billion in 2014. The same goes for tablets, which are expected to sell nearly 200 million units worldwide in 2015.

Despite those formidable sales numbers, there is still a strong market for laptop and desktop PCs, no matter what trends the market research people are producing. About 300 million portable PCs were sold in 2014, a tick up from the previous year, and prospects look good for sales increases to continue in 2015.

The facts are that smartphones and tablets simply cannot do what larger-form PCs can do, especially in a business setting. They certainly cannot perform as quickly or efficiently as laptops or desktop PCs for most of the work force. In fact, smaller form computers never will be able to do what larger ones can do. Period.

While smartphones and tablets drew most of the attention at the Consumer Electronics Show last year, things have cooled down a bit in 2015. Tablet sales, especially by the Apple and Google knockoffs, have dropped, and even iPads and Android tablets have seen sales level off or drop in the last 12 to 18 months.

Renewed Interest in PCs of All Types

Thus, there is a renewed interest in laptops and desktop this year at the CES, and the manufacturers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Samsung, and Toshiba -- to name just a few -- were ready for the attention.

"When your kid goes off to college, are you going to give him only a cell phone?" Dell Inc. founder and CEO Michael Dell asked recently during an interview in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Dell told eWEEK that the PC sales are on the rise for his company, which recently received an order for 10,000 laptops from one customer. Dell also said his PC business is posting a much larger margin ["multiple times the profit"] than the slim 1 percent profit margin its biggest competitor, China's Lenovo, shows in financial statements.

Dell said PCs will continue to play an increasingly important role for his company. PCs are important for everything from customer acquisition to having a complete enterprise offering, he said. Despite the declining sales worldwide over the past three years—due in large part to the growth in popularity of tablets—PCs are still a fundamental computing tool for much of the world's population.

That is even truer in developing markets, where hardware continues to be a high priority. Businesses in these countries still need networking and other technologies, "but they start with the basics," Dell said.

Michael Dell: 'Tools That People Need'

"If you give people the tools they need to make them more productive, you give them a PC," he said. "Maybe not just a PC; maybe a PC and a smartphone. But the PC is important."

In 2015, the number of PC shipments—which include traditional desktops and notebooks as well as premium ultramobile systems—will climb to almost 317 million units, up about 2.9 percent from this year and almost equaling the number of units shipped in 2013. Much of that will come in the commercial PC space, according to Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner.

"2014 will be known by a relative revival of the global PC market," Antwal said. "Business upgrades from Windows XP and the general business replacement cycle will lessen the downward trend, especially in Western Europe. This year, we anticipate nearly 60 million professional PC replacements in mature markets."

CES 2015 was crammed with innovative new laptop and desktop PCs from a variety of vendors. The vast majority of them are running Intel's new fifth-generation Core Broadwell processors, the first to leverage the company's latest 14nm process and architecture.

Toshiba, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Samsung, Asus and Lenovo are in an intense battle for market share by adding features, lowering weights and prices, and increasing battery life in a flotilla of new personal computers that can put mere 6-month-old laptops to shame.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...