Pondering The Traditional Personal Computer

Pondering The Traditional Personal Computer

Computer User

Several years ago, I questioned should your next personal computer even be a computer. That is, with the advances in mobile technologies and cloud-based computing that had appeared at the time, the question of whether many business professionals genuinely need access to a traditional desktop computer seemed relevant. Today, that question is alive and well more than ever. In this article, you will learn about why your next computer may be quite different from your last.

First, The Numbers

According to Statista, personal computer shipments reached a high point in 2011. During that year, over 365 million units were sold, as shown in Figure 1. Since that time, shipments have declined steadily, except for a slight uptick in 2020. That uptick is likely attributable to sales to enable pandemic-driven remote work strategies.

Shipments of PCs
Figure 1 - Worldwide Shipments of PCs, 2006 through 2020

What Is Driving The Decline?

The drivers of the decline in sales are somewhat intuitive. First, our devices are generally lasting longer than they did in the past. Better quality components yield longer useful lives.  In turn, improved quality reduces the need to replace computers as often as we did in the past.

Second, the rise of mobile devices has no doubt impacted our need to use traditional computers. With smartphones and tablets, our dependency on computers to perform many tasks is less than before. Further, many users prefer to perform tasks using their mobile devices. Of course, this trend depresses the demand for PCs even more.

Third, the rise of cloud computing and remote computing changed the business landscape permanently. Today, businesses of all sizes can access a cloud-based service for virtually every need. For example, cloud-based services exist for accounting, tax preparation, document management, customer relationship management, analytics, and most other business functions. Moreover, with many businesses having adopted virtual desktops, even though their team members “see” a traditional desktop computer on their monitors, they actually run a computer accessed from their web browser instead of a conventional desktop PC. Further, they can access this virtual computer from their smartphone or tablet, if desired. For these three reasons and perhaps others, we should not be surprised to see a decline in desktop and laptop computer sales.

What About The Future?

Looking forward, you should expect the trends outlined above to continue, perhaps even accelerating. Specifically, the impact of mobile devices and cloud-based applications will cause an increasing number of users to question the value of a traditional desktop or laptop device.

For example, recent advances in iOS (the operating system for iPhones and iPads) allow users to connect a mouse to their mobile device using Bluetooth. Coupled with the fact that you can also connect a keyboard using Bluetooth and you can connect your device to an external monitor, and suddenly the differences between an iPad and a desktop computer begin to diminish. In fact, for many information workers, being able to use their smartphone or tablet as their “uber” device can be appealing. Reasons for this appeal include reduced costs, less maintenance, and potentially improved security because fewer devices are in use and subject to attack.

Are There Downsides?

Indeed, the idea of using a smartphone or tablet is not for everyone. However, to the extent that your need for computer centers around communication, collaboration, or accessing a virtual computer hosted elsewhere, then the idea merits consideration. But, there can be downsides.

One potential downside is the availability of apps and services that you can run from the mobile device. Suppose you work for a large organization with a fully-integrated ERP platform hosted on your company’s servers. In this case, it is doubtful that you would be able to access that platform directly from the mobile device. Likewise, although the web-based and mobile app versions of Microsoft Office are much stronger than they were just a few years ago, they still do not provide all their traditional counterparts’ features and functions. Thus, if you need access to the full version of Excel, for example, you would be wise to stay with a traditional PC.


Once considered a staple of every business professional’s toolkit, desktops and laptops are far less favorable now than just a decade ago. Advances in cloud computing and mobile devices mean that traditional computing platforms are no longer necessary for many business professionals. Instead, while still the minority, some professionals have transitioned to a single device to serve all their needs. While this strategy is not necessarily suitable for everyone, it can be a simpler, safer, and more cost-effective way of working for a surprising number of professionals today.

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