People aren’t buying PCs like they used to – with sales stuttering for a number of years.
But now Intel and Microsoft are talking up the prospect of a PC-revival, fuelled by the capabilities of Intel’s new processors based on its Skylake architecture and the recently released Windows 10 operating system.
PCs based on Skylake processors will offer more than double the performance and triple the battery life of five year old systems, according to Intel. These faster, more efficient processors will help power a new wave of thin, hybrid devices that can function as a PC or a tablet – the likes of 2-in-1s laptops with keyboards that are detachable or fold away.
Beyond being more powerful, the processor family has been designed to optimise facial recognition using the Intel RealSense 3D cameras being built into increasing numbers of new tablets and laptops – which will complement Windows 10’s support for unlocking your laptop by scanning your face. Alongside, Skylake’s built-in support for wireless charging and displays promises to take computer closer to being cable-free.
But how much will the prospect of being able to log into your computer by looking at it or ditching wires really shift new PCs?
PCs are too complex
The big problem facing PC-manufacturers, and one that won’t be solved by new processor features and Windows releases, is that Windows PCs are too much of a hassle for modern consumers, according to Ovum analyst Richard Edwards.
“There’s a realization in the consumer space that, despite the applause that was given to Windows 10, it’s still a workstation-class operating system that offers more than the most general consumers need,” he said.
Most consumers don’t want to bother with “managing and maintaining a sophisticated desktop operating system”, according to Edwards, they want a computer that lets them to surf the web, play computer games and post on social networks.
For those users “the appeal of the tablet is still much stronger than the appeal of a shiny new PC”.
These users have little need for the extra functionality offered by a 2-in-1 device, he said, and if they really need a keyboard can easily buy a Bluetooth peripheral for their iPad or Android tablet.
Another explanation for declining interest in PCs is that we live in an era of good-enough computing – where most households already own a computer that meets their needs. The same may also be becoming true of tablets, with signs of sales slowing down as the market becomes saturated.
Beyond the argument that consumers are no longer willing to put up with Windows’ complexity, is the fact that – barring technical issues – Windows 10 is a free upgrade to users running Windows 7 and 8.
Given how many users have already upgraded old machines to Windows 10, Gartner research director Annette Zimmermann said the new operating system shouldn’t be counted on as being a big PC system seller.
“The bottom line is it has less of an impact than it would have if you had an operating system that had to be bought with a new machine,” she said.
Hybrids and business – a potent mix?
Gartner is optimistic about demand for hybrid PCs, however, claiming the numbers of 2-in-1 devices sold in 2016 will push PC sales to grow four percent over the previous year.
In the long run this appetite for laptop/tablet crossovers will also extend to enterprises, said Gartner’s Zimmermann, thanks to Windows 10’s ability to adapt its look and feel to suit PCs and tablets and better mobile management hooks.
“There’s a good chance that enterprises are going to embrace these new 2-in-1 devices because the operating system is finally there,” she said.
Ovum’s Edwards is less convinced that IT shops will be persuaded to invest in 2-in-1 PCs for staff, believing workers will be best served by computers suited to their role – be they desktops, laptops, tablets or phones.
“If you need a particular kind of tool with a certain level of power and capability then what’s the point of giving you enough not enough or too much?” he said.
Give staff a device that is too powerful or fully-featured and you’re wasting money, while offer too weedy a machine and you hamper their ability to work, he said, giving the example of a sales teams that eventually rejected iPads because of the inability to use apps side-by-side.
What’s more important to end-users than providing one highly-specced device to do it all, in Edwards’ view, is having access to the same files and apps whichever machine they use.
“If you look at Microsoft Office now, if I switch from the app on my iPad to on my PC the ‘Recent files’ list is the same, there’s that continuum that is probably more important to most users than whether it’s got the latest camera or fingerprint reader.”