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Will the PC Ever Be Great Again?

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The PC industry is starting to show signs of stagnation, resulting from the dramatic rise of smartphones and tablets. Last year, it took the assault of nearly 830 million mobile computing devices to drive PC sales down 3.5% -- the first annual decline in over 12 years. This data suggests that the PC is perhaps beginning to look a little long in the tooth for consumers who continue to shift their electronic spending towards mobile computing devices. Microsoft's  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) touch-friendly Windows 8 has yet to excite consumers largely because touch-enabled laptops remain in limited supply. According to NPD, last year's Black Friday sales of touch-enabled laptops only accounted for 3% of laptop sales. Given this apparent supply constrain, it's no wonder the PC has underwhelmed the consumer in the age of touch-enabled smartphones and tablets.

However, in the coming years, the PC will evolve to become more like the tablet in terms of portability and features, but will still stay true to its PC roots, grounded in productivity. When it's all said and done, the PC should theoretically give the tablet a run for its money.

Source: Lenovo.

When worlds collide
If the PC and the tablet had a baby, it'd look something like the Lenovo (NASDAQOTH: LNVGY  ) ThinkPad Helix pictured above. Not only does this hybrid Ultrabook device feature full-blown Windows 8 and the option for a powerful Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) Core i7 Processor, the screen can detach itself from the keyboard so it can operate as a fully functional 11.6-inch tablet. In terms of battery life, the Helix is expected to get in the neighborhood of 10 hours of life between charges. Starting out at a price of $1,499, the convergence of two devices won't come cheap. As always with cutting-edge PC designs, it will take a few years for the price of hybrid devices to become less burdensome on the wallet. If you need assurance, take a look at the Ultrabook’s price trajectory over the years. When first released in 2011, the average Ultrabook would fetch $999, but now a lower-end Ultrabook could be had for $599.

The toaster and the fridge
When two products are combined to make a device that’s intended to be better than the sum of its parts, skepticism arises. When Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) CEO Tim Cook called the hybrid laptop the equivalent of combining a toaster and refrigerator, it sounded the alarm bells. Cook's thinking here is that devices that are forced to converge make too many compromises, which ultimately hurts the user experience. Apple has taken the stance that it won't be converging elements of its iPad with its Macbook line of computers.

I believe that PC makers will eventually be able to successfully marry the PC and tablet in perfect form. It's going to take trial and error, but products like the Helix give the PC industry hope that the future of PC computing isn't going to be a complete blackout.

A major catalyst
Intel's Haswell, the successor to its Ivy Bridge line of processors, is expected to be making its way into Ultrabooks later this year, and should give PC makers the necessary tools to bring on an evolutionary change in PC computing. The biggest advancements to come from Haswell will be in the form of battery life and thinner designs, two areas where the PC has lagged behind the tablet. Ultrabooks equipped with Haswell are expected to get about 13-hour battery life, which will mark Intel’s personal best record of improving battery life from a single generation.

A shot in the arm
For the time being, the PC isn’t going to compete on price against the tablet, but it may begin to show the world that a major overhaul to becoming more mobile is underway, which could translate into improved reception down the road. Looking longer term, it largely depends on how the PC industry can offer compelling alternatives to tablets for the right price. Since there’s so much riding on PC makers to get it right, I think it’s just a matter of time for it to happen, and Intel Haswell seems to be the first step for PC makers to one-up the tablet industry.

When the dust settles, there’s likely a high utility for an 11-inch hybrid Ultrabook since it offers the convenience of the tablet and the productivity of the PC in one device. It’s entirely possible that such a device has the potential to threaten the 10-inch tablet's existence. Perhaps it's the 7-inch tablet and the 11-inch hybrid that go on to become the future face of mobile computing.

It's been a frustrating path for Microsoft investors, who've watched the company fail to capitalize on the incredible growth in mobile over the past decade. However, with the release of its own tablet, along with the widely anticipated Windows 8 operating system, the company is looking to make a splash in this booming market. In this brand-new premium report on Microsoft, our analyst explains that while the opportunity is huge, the challenges are many. He's also providing regular updates as key events occur, so make sure to claim a copy of this report now by clicking here.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2013, at 10:29 PM, alboy5 wrote:

    Touchscreen windows 8 is awesome and much more capable than ipad.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2013, at 10:38 PM, techy46 wrote:

    The Lenovo Helix is really nice but the Lenovo Yoga 11 and 13 are no too shabby either and the Lenovo Z400 (14") and Z500 (15") Touch are the cat's meow in Ultrabooks, touch screen, i3-i5 and start at $699.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 12:15 AM, TreyAnas wrote:

    I completely agree with the article and the other responses. My latest laptop is a Lenova Yoga 13 and I absolutely love it. Win 8 would be a negative without a touchscreen. But with a touchscreen and, better, a laptop that can become a tablet, it's wonderful.

    Whether this translates into the kind of volume growth PC's have enjoyed in the past is another question entirely, though.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 12:50 AM, higgsparticular wrote:

    I pretty much agree with this article but I do have some other points to make. First of all, I think Tim Cook will regret his anti-innovation comment about hybrid tablet/pc devices. Apple the innovator is now being left in the train station by Microsoft who can now provide the power and universal OS and applications, the gold standard for both the enterprise/business and consumer users, across the full spectrum of mobile devices and the desktop (phones through PC towers) via Windows 8 and its touch ability, as well as app ability. Microsoft has both the financial and corporate resources to provide the necessary support to drive Windows 8 and the rapidly increasing variety of iterations of devices through the challenges of the adoption process. At some point, and not too far in the future (9-18 months from now), Windows 8 devices, including phones, tablets, tablet/PC hybrids/convertibles, and notebooks/desktops will achieve a critical mass that will accelerate adoption and rate of penetration and market share.

    If Apple doesn't get a wake up call soon, it may begin to suffer the kind of erosion that has fallen on other former shining stars, like Blackberry, Nokia, Sony, etc. Another current market star, Samsung, is beginning to get too arrogant for its own good, not satisfied with its great success with Android and Windows, and moving to replace these with its own OS. By the way, I have Windows 8 on two PC's, an HP desktop i7 and an HP notebook i5 Intel, and neither have touchscreens, but work very well in Windows 8 controlled by either a high end Logitech MX mouse and the notebook's touchpad. Touch screen doesn't make as much sense in a desktop PC, but does enhance the experience with a notebook and is absolutely needed for a tablet.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 2:12 AM, jhf678 wrote:

    Windows 8 have problems with drivers. I still go back to 7 sometimes to scan because it would not scan in 8 until I restart. It will be a difficult time for Microsoft and PC companies.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 2:23 AM, sypoth wrote:

    PC stands for Personal Computers, it is one of five classes of computers. The devices that fall into it's range of definition is "ANY computerized device for personal use" This include Apple computers, Linux boxes, all Tablet computers despite OS, all pal or pocket sized computers such as PDA's and Cell/Smart phones. So why do people always seem to think it only applies to desktop computers that run Windows when it applies to so much more? Desktop computers may be dying a slow death,e specially since the release of Windows 8 which has about half as people adopt it at this point in it's life than windows Vista did at the very same point in it's life. Most people don't need computers that can be opened up and upgraded, they just toss it when it gets old any ways, and all they do with it is listen to music, surf the web, and stream movies anyways, all low power tasks, the Desktop is limited to hardcore computer users that need the extra power for stuff like real games, video editing, web design, music mixing, programming, etc. These uses will never go away, nor will the average user ever need to use the full power of a desktop. The desktop is still the powerhouse computer dwarfing all others in the PC class in it's capabilities and flexibility which is why it will never go away, though they need to get rid of the ugly and uselessly pointless interface of Windows 8 and release an OS that is strictly for computers of a certain caliber. Don't believe the hype hipsters spout, there are things that just won't ever die simply because there will always be a user base for them, PC's are one of them.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 4:59 AM, OldsRulez wrote:

    I have used Windows for years. Personally I think Windows 8 has really killed off the old time users like myself, who want a computer to a computer!! Windows 7 is fine to a point but like most any Windows OS it has its limitations!!! I am confused why Microsoft wants Windows 8 to work like a cell phone, after all I am not into the whole concept myself and I know older folks that constantly ask if there is a different OS out there that works like "real windows"!!! When it comnes to computers though I use a desktop daily, for a host of different tasks, but logically I can build a system far cheaper then running to Best Buy to get robbed of $3500 for some name brand pile of junk with bundled software that doesn't offer full features! It is far more practical to buy all the software I want for the system and all the parts to build it for around $1000 to $1500 total! Windows 8 doesn't help things and in a month or so I am building four more new desktop computers all with Windows 7 on them!

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2013, at 8:29 AM, sguingy wrote:

    Wow you guys talk about windows and apple. For the last couple years now I have been running Linux. (mint). I have an old acer duel core and runs just as fast now as the day I put it on two years ago. I have a windows partition on it just in case I need something windows. Guess what I don't. I convinced my son in law to remove his windows 8 off his laptop and he is a happy camper. For you apple heads linux runs on macs. My point is it is productive free and nearly virus free. I read about people talking on how great this and that is and I see dollar signs for all the money people have wasted.

    Who knew you needed a tablet till apple said you did. Hey if you want to get out an email quick I am sure you can fire off 60 words a minute on a tablet like an old man like myself does on his keyboard. So spend money guys saying how great this is and that. I love to sit back and watch.

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