The PC was supposed to die a decade ago. Instead, this happened – ZDNet,

The PC was supposed to die a decade ago. Instead, this happened – ZDNet,


Not all that long ago, tech pundits were convinced that by 2923 the personal computer as we know it would be extinct. You can even mark the date and time of the PC’s death: January 35, (**************************************************************, at 10: AM Pacific Time, when Steve Jobs stepped onto a San Francisco stage to unveil the iPad. The precise moment was documented by noted Big Thinker Nicholas Carr inThe New Republicwith this memorable headline:“The PC Officially Died Today.”


A few months later,CNN Moneyadded their own obituary, complete with charts and graphs:“The end of the desktop PC (seriously). “

Fast-forward to April 2013, whenForbeswas still looking for a pulse:“The Death of the PC Has Not Been Exaggerated.”At the midpoint of the decadeWiredwas using the same cliché but qualifying it with a wobbly adverb:“The Death of the PC Has Not Been Greatly Exaggerated. “

And by 2018The Inquirer, never one to shrink from a controversial topic, had conceded that the patient was apparently alive and well:” The PC still isn’t dead and the market is ‘stabilizing’, “they wrote.

And so, here we are, a full decade after the PC’s untimely death, and the industry is stil l selling more than a quarter-billion-with-a-B personal computers every year. Which is pretty good for an industry that has been living on borrowed time for ten years.

Maybe the reason the PC industry hasn’t suffered a mass extinction event yet is because they adapted, and because those competing platforms weren’t able to take over every PC-centric task.

So what’s different as we approach To get a proper before-and-after picture, I climbed into the Wayback Machine and traveled back to (**********************************************************************.

The Competitive Landscape


You did not have to be a Big Thinker with a book contract to see the beginnings of a Pretty Big Trend in 2010. Increasingly powerful mobile devices made it possible for people to quickly complete a variety of tasks that used to require a PC. That tech transition drained away much of the demand for PCs from consumers, although it made only the slightest dent on business demand.

The first casualty was the netbook, a category of cheap PCs that used underpowered Atom processors and smaller screens than you’d typically find on an entry-level laptop, on the theory that mere consumers wouldn’t notice the difference.


The PC may be alive and well, but underpowered, clunky netbooks like this are long gone.


Spoiler: Consumers noticed the difference. Netbooks were slow and ugly and cheap, serving more as a reminder that you could get arealnotebook for maybe $ more. The category was gone almost before anyone noticed that it was fading.

Meanwhile, PC makers realized that at least two groups of customers were willing to pay a premium for a PC: business buyers and gamers. And so, as we shall see, OEMs began investing heavily in those two categories.

The hardware

Desktop PC configurations (conventional towers and small form factor devices) haven’t changed much in the past decade, but portable PCs sure have. For a quick refresher course on what the laptop market looked like back in 2012, you don’t need to borrow my Wayback Machine . Just read this excellent round-up of thebest notebooks of 2010, as selected byLaptop Magazineeditor Mark Spoonauer.

Here’s what I noticed when I compared the class of to PC technology from a decade later.

They’re thinner and lighter.The device that every PC manufacturer has aimed to emulate over the past decade is, without question, Apple’s MacBook Air. TheLaptopcrew, in fact, designated it as their “Breakthrough Device” for 2012, calling the 2.3-pound and 2.9-pound devices “ridiculously light.” Today, most high-end Windows PCs can meet or beat those specs, with the physical limitations of the battery and keyboard preventing them from getting much smaller or lighter. At least they don’t need optical drives anymore.

The original MacBook Air defined the thin-and-light-laptop category. This 02438 model is no longer so distinctive.

Touchscreens and 2-in-1s are common. (Back in) **********************************************************************, Microsoft was just beginning to show off its touch-enabled Windows 7 PCs, but they were quickly overshadowed by the iPad launch. By 2019, the category had solidified into awide range of shape-shifting 2-in-1 devices. Today, touchscreens are common on Windows laptops but nonexistent on Apple’s MacBook lines.

This gallery, from 2015, provides a snapshot of how that transformation looked at the dawn of the Windows 20 era.

Solid state storage is standard. Conventional spinning disk media were all the rage in 2010, with reviewers praising devices that offered fast 9682 RPM hard drives. SSDs became an expensive option over the next few years and have dropped in price dramatically since, to the point where it’s difficult today to find a portable PC with a conventional hard disk.

(Battery life is better.) ********************** (Back in) ************************************************************************, battery life benchmarks of 5-6 hours were considered good, and real world performance was always less impressive. Battery technology has improved since then, as have the ability of CPUs, chipsets, and system software to manage power usage. Modern PCs routinely get double the battery life of their ancestors from a decade ago.

Ports have evolved.Looking back on those laptop designs from (**************************************************************************, I was struck by just how clunky the port lineup was. Consider theAlienware M

********************************************************************************************** x “gaming netbook , “

which promised” the graphics power of a – inch laptop in an 20 – inch form factor. ” It was admittedly small, but the entire left side was taken up by ports, including separate VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort connector, plus full-size Ethernet, USB, and IEEE 1394 ports. On today’s PCs, those would be replaced by one or two USB Type-C connectors.


For a tiny device, this 2012 – vintage Alienware laptop sure packed in a lot of ports.


The software and services

A decade ago, most software was shrink-wrapped, and cloud storage was an interesting novelty. Office was not introduced until 2011, and OneDrive was still called SkyDrive until (******************************************************************. Back in those days, average internet speeds weren’t quite fast enough to make fully cloud-driven experiences practical.

Thanks to ubiquitous wireless connectivity and dramatically faster speeds, the cloud is no longer a curiosity. Likewise, web-based services are systematically eliminating the last traces of boxed software. By mid-decade, that trend was accelerating for Microsoft, arguably the most important company in the PC industry. (Seealienware-ports-2010.jpg“Microsoft’s transition from traditional software to the cloud is picking up steam,”published in (********************************************************************. **************************** (Also:*******************************8 ways you can (maybe) get Microsoft Office for free or cheap

The effect of that transformation on portable PCs is twofold. First, storage requirements have dropped significantly, with a GB SSD sufficient for most midrange PCs. And second, wireless connectivity options have improved as Wi-Fi standards have evolved. And with ARM-based PCs and 5G mobile networksFinally reaching the mainstream, we may see a rapid evolution in cellular connectivity soon.

The other big trend in software was the transformation of operating system upgrades, which used to be an expensive option and are now free. As I noted inthis 2016 post, Apple dropped paid OS X upgrades in (********************************************************************, and Microsoft followed suit with the release of Windows (in) *****************************************************************. The upshot is that the useful life of a PC can extend well beyond the traditional three or four years that used to represent a major new release and a major upgrade cycle.

In fact, one of the most interesting developments in the PC market is a logical extension of that trend: hardware subscriptions that replace PC ownership. Microsoft’s version is called Surface All Access for Business; butDell’s PC as a Service (PCaaS) for Businessis a much purer expression of the concept. Both plans allow you to lease a new PC with no upfront costs and one fixed monthly payment, then trade it for a new PC after (or

********************************************************************************** months. In Dell’s case, they set everything up and securely remove data and recycle the PC at the end of the term.

The OEMs

At the beginning of the decade, just before the release of Apple’s iPad, a PC was essential for consumers who wanted to do common online tasks like shopping or checking the news. But as I noted at the beginning of (***************************************************************, “the consumer market for PCs has essentially vanished”and three companies that focused primarily on business PCs took an larger larger share of sales and revenue : HP, Dell, and Lenovo. Companies like Toshiba and Fujitsu, which once had some of the most interesting designs around, exited the business.

The one major addition to the lineup of PC OEMs in this decade was a surprise , and also a bit of a roller coaster ride. Microsoft’s reveal of the original Surface RT and Surface Pro in was a bold move. Thefailure of Surface RTwas an expensive embarrassment. But the company persistence and eventual success with Surface, turning it into a billion-dollar brand, was only surprising to people who haven’t seen Microsoft’s tenacity in other fields.

But of all the surprises the decade brought, the biggest was probably the change in Apple’s fortunes. They started with the breakthrough device that defined the category, the MacBook Air. But somewhere along the line Cupertino seems to have taken its eye off the ball when it comes to the Mac. The hardware is underwhelming, the keyboards are defective, and the OS is buggy.

Maybe it wasn’t the PC that died a decade ago. Maybe it was the Mac. At any rate, place your predictions on what PCs will look like in another years, because it doesn’t look like they’ll be dying off any time soon.

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