Despite what you may have heard, the desktop PC isn’t about to go extinct. Ask anyone who relies on CAD applications or any similarly CPU-intensive software and they’ll tell you: there’s still no substitute for the grunt that only comes from the New Mac Pro or similarly muscular Windows-based counterparts.
But what about the rest of us? Is this the year we finally untether our computers from our desks?
As far as the most obvious substitute – the laptop PC – goes, new mobile processors from AMD and Intel are both more powerful and more energy-efficient. That means most of us can do everything we need on one of these more portable machines. But even that shift may prove to be temporary, as changes already happening across the board mean business owners may soon conclude that a good proportion – maybe even most – employees don’t need a PC at all.
First, let’s look at the hardware. The growing number of laptop/tablet hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, Acer Aspire R7, HP EliteBook Revolve and Microsoft Surface Pro 2 offer the best of both worlds. Like regular tablets, they’re becoming more capable and more powerful with every generation. And as prices start to drop these previously premium products will become a compelling option for those who need both the advantage of a touchscreen and the capabilities of a keyboard. Similarly, Apple’s iPad is accompanied by a huge raft of accessories that enable it to be used as a powerful business tool.
The future? It’s in the Cloud
But the biggest change – and one that will likely make the most fundamental difference – is under the hood. The shift from local to Cloud computing means very little actual computing is happening on the user’s device. That means more or less any tablet, phablet, smartphone or Chromebook – anything connected to the Internet, essentially – is capable of performing tasks that would previously have needed a PC. Videoconferencing, number crunching, business data: it’s all in the Cloud. And on the screen in every employee’s bag, purse or pocket.
What’s more, that old buzzphrase ‘the internet of things’ is starting to have an impact on the PC. Smart devices connected to the internet such as multifunction printers are now able to scan, print and store documents without ever having to touch a computer.
These changes are making a dent in sales of desktop PCs that seems to be irreversible. According to research firm Gartner, PC sales fell by almost 5% worldwide in Q4 or 2013, the boost Microsoft hoped would come from the launch of Windows 8 apparently failing to arrest the slide.
Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner said:
“Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by ‘cannibalizing’ PC sales, but by causing PC users to shift consumption to tablets rather than replacing older PCs. This transformation was triggered by the availability of compelling low-cost tablets in 2012, and will continue until the installed base of PCs declines to accommodate tablets as the primary consumption device.”
Get ready for a new approach to business computing
So is it time to make the switch? Companies such as Apple and Microsoft certainly seem to think so. Their latest offerings, including Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office 2013 and Apple iWork are all clearly designed to shift the focus to touchscreen and tablet from keyboard and mouse. But there are still challenges to making the break completely, as third party business software vendors play catch-up.
IT departments are already facing the challenge of wireless working: increasing strain on corporate WiFi networks and VPNs, plus the challenge of establishing and maintaining security in a whole new ecosystem. It’s not a question of simply junking the desktops and giving everyone a shiny new tablet: the migration needs to be carefully planned and executed.
But having said that, the time has clearly come for every business to consider the future. Do we want to cling on to an old, familiar model that offers few advantages and plenty of limitations – or do we want to start envisioning a new way of working and thinking about technology that puts the power – literally – at the workforce’s fingertips?