When Apple (AAPL 4.01%) introduced the first iPad in 2010, many investors heard the first death knell for the traditional PC market. The portable computing devices quickly ate into traditional PC and Mac strongholds, and that industry hasn't been the same since.
But is the PC market truly dying, or just taking a breather? We asked a panel of Motley Fool contributors how they see old-school laptops and desktops surviving in this increasingly mobile era, and these three writers quickly came up with several solid pro-PC arguments.
So if you were walking out into the sunset, ready to play Taps for the traditional PC market, you should read on to see why these systems are likely to stick around for the long haul after all.
Dan Caplinger (developing markets): One thing to keep in mind about the global economy is that even when certain types of technology become obsolescent in the U.S. and other developed industrial markets, they can take on a new life in an emerging market where people can't afford to spend a ton of money on cutting-edge products. For years, even as many markets turned toward mobile devices, those seeking low-cost computing alternatives could obtain PCs running Linux or other non-proprietary operating systems and achieve many of the same goals that those in the developed world spend much more on iOS or Windows-based products to achieve.
Indeed, the death of the PC in the developed world could hasten the evolution of the PC market elsewhere, as a flood of antiquated hardware allows those in emerging markets to upgrade their systems and take advantage of gradual improvements in available technology. The faster that people in the U.S. give up their desktop machines, the quicker those up-and-coming economies will be able to make better use of unwanted PCs. Given the ease of customizing PCs to use whatever hardware and software resources might be available, it's far too early to conclude that PCs won't find a second or third life far from their birthplaces in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.
That might not be helpful for the companies that produce new PCs themselves, but for makers of peripherals, accessories, and related equipment and software products, emerging markets represent a huge growth opportunity in the years to come.
Anders Bylund (flexibility): It's true that tablet computers have come a long way, but they still have a long way to go before they can match the unparalleled flexibility of a traditional computer -- and desktop towers in particular.
All right, I know -- old fogy alert. Call me reactionary, call me old-school, call me a geek. Some of those names kind of hurt, but I'll take it and grin this time.
The plain fact is, regular old computers can do so many things that even the best tablets just can't match. Start with a decent laptop. There, you'll find a plethora of USB ports for easy expansion, the hard drive can be replaced with a couple of twists from the nearest Phillips screwdriver, and you're free to plug in additional monitors for acres of screen space.
The desktop models start there, add in a plethora of internal expansion cards, provide for easy upgrades of every single component, and come steeped in additional computing power.
Using the Geekbench testing suite, you can compare the horsepower of mobile and traditional computing devices on an apples-to-apples basis. There, a modern Intel (INTC 0.84%) Core i7 processor that's designed for notebook systems scores more than 31,000 points, making it about 12 times as fast as a mid-range desktop chip released four years ago. The fastest Apple tablet -- an iPad Air 2 -- stops just north of 4,500 points and is thus only twice as quick as a processor you'll only find in refurbished, obsolete laptops nowadays. The fastest Android tablet is far slower, and goes roughly head-to-head with that aging laptop chip.
So come back when tablets start shipping with flexible expansion options, no longer seem silly next to a proper keyboard, and can match computing muscles with decent PC systems of the same era.
Until then, there will always be a market for standard Mac and PC systems. Gimme an old-school desktop for my day-to-day needs, anytime. In this house, tablets are strictly for the games and streaming videos my kids are playing.
Daniel Kline (business users won't let go): While the PC has taken its hits and lost a portion of its audience to tablets and smartphones, those devices have their limitations for business users. The personal computer industry is not very likely to convince casual users mostly seeking entertainment or using their device for social media to come back, but at the same time it's not likely to see a massive falloff with its core customer base using their machines for productivity.
As a person who uses his computer for work (mostly for writing and web surfing to support that) a tablet -- even one with an added keyboard is not a comparable replacement. I own multiple tablets for watching movies on planes and even have a keyboard for one, but I would never use it for anything other than answering emails briefly or quick social media posts.
At no point has owning a tablet (and I've had pretty much all the major ones) ever let me travel for business without also packing a proper laptop. Now imagine the worker who uses his computer at a proper desk inputting things on spreadsheets, or even editing video or doing heavy graphics design, and it's hard to picture this person ever opting for something other than a PC.
The PC market has shrunk and it may even contract a little more, but there is a clear demand for PCs that's not likely to go away anytime soon.