Dell Looks to VR, AR, Voice to Help Drive Future PC Sales

Unit shipments of PCs may still be slowing, but the vendor expects next-generation technologies to help it grow in a market that is continuing to consolidate.

Dell PC

The focus of last week's Dell EMC World 2016 show was largely on enterprise IT, which shouldn't come as a surprise given the newly combined company's strengths in such areas as servers, data storage, virtualization and the cloud.

But officials with Dell Technologies made sure to stress that despite the continued shrinking global market, PCs continue to be a crucial part of the company's end-to-end strategy, and even in a consolidating space, Dell is gaining ground. CEO Michael Dell noted during his keynote address in Austin, Texas, that the company has gained PC market share for 15 consecutive quarters.

Jeff Clarke, vice chairman of operations and president of Client Solutions at Dell, said there are 275 million systems sold each year, and that the leaders in this increasingly consolidating space only have about 20 percent of the market. That means there is plenty of room to grow, Clarke said.

Add to that emerging technologies such as speech and gesture recognition, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which will change significantly how users interact with their PCs and what they will be able to do with them, he said during a roundtable discussion with journalists at the show.

IDC and Gartner analysts earlier this year showed a global PC market still in decline, with shipments in the third quarter falling year over year between 3.9 percent (IDC) to 5.7 percent (Gartner), with total units shipped between 68 million and 69 million. IDC analysts had a fairly optimistic view of the future for the space, noting efforts by industry players to use new chips and operating systems to develop systems that are faster, more mobile and more secure, which will reap rewards down the road.

Gartner Principal Analyst Mikako Kitagawa said the industry continues to be hobbled by an excess of consumer devices—such as mobile smartphones, tablets and phablets—which is convincing users to hold onto their PCs longer than in the past, and weak consumer demand in emerging markets. In mature markets, people use at least three different devices, and consumers don't tend to feel the need to upgrade their PCs. "Some may never decide to upgrade a PC again," Kitagawa said in a statement.

In emerging markets, the first computing device consumers use tend to be smartphones or phablets, and don't see the need for PCs as much as their counterparts in mature regions do.

However, Dell's Clarke sees a strong future for PCs in general, and Dell's business in particular. It's a consolidating market in which Dell is seeing growth; there are new technologies that will fundamentally change how PCs work and what they can do; and, while consumers and business users may have smartphones and other computing devices at their disposal, PCs still are the top choice for creating content and doing work. Tablets, which helped accelerate the contraction of the PC market over the past several years, are themselves now in decline.

During a keynote, he called the idea of tablets replacing PCs "hogwash."

"Many of our business customers realize that tablets don't replace a notebook," Clarke said later during the journalist roundtable. "They complement it, but they don't replace it."

New form factors such as two-in-ones—which can be used as a traditional notebook or a tablet—are helping to drive renewed interest in PCs, and new interfaces will enhance the user experience. Already, systems offer touchscreen capabilities to go along with keyboards and mice, and voice and gesture controls are on their way, Clarke said. Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system already offers many of the features—such as Cortana—to make such capabilities possible.

"We're going to talk to [PCs] and they're going to be enabled to talk back and make us more productive," he said.