Is the PC dead? No, but it’s good enough for most home office work, and that’s virtually the same thing to manufacturers desperate to sell new systems. Some users, to be sure, like having the latest and greatest and have reason to upgrade often. Software developers, video editors, and computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering experts need all the power they can get. But, for a more typical home office focused mostly on productivity and financial work, a PC that’s a few years old can still do the job—and that’s a nightmare scenario for PC vendors.
According to the market watchers at International Data Corp. (IDC), last year’s decline in worldwide PC shipments was the largest in history, making 2015 the first year since 2008 with fewer than 300 million units leaving the factories. “While some very attractive new PCs have been launched,” IDC’s statement said, “the market is taking some time to respond to new OS and hardware configurations—deciding when to upgrade and evaluating slim, convertible, detachable, and touch variations versus more traditional PCs.”
Users have been holding off on upgrades for several years now because they don’t perceive a need for new systems and because Windows 8 had cooties. This has driven the industry collectively nuts. “Look, the screen folds into a tablet! Now will you buy? Look, we brought back the Start menu! How about now?”
This is why, when it introduced new sixth-generation vPro processors last week, Intel didn’t tout its five to 10 percent better performance compared to the previous generation—it advertised two and a half times the performance, three times the battery life, and a 30-fold improvement in graphics compared to a five-year-old system. (“Thirty times better graphics! Still won’t play games!”)
Antiques Home Show
I’m one of the foot-dragging customers making vendors so frustrated because I’m still using my five-year-old PC: the Gateway One ZX6951-53, a geriatric all-in-one that doesn’t even have USB 3.0 ports for my new flash drives. Is it state of the art? More like state of decay. But can it run Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Paint.net, Chrome, and other apps in my toolkit? Sure.
Over the holidays, it even let me surrender to Microsoft’s pop-up siren song and ditch Windows 7 for the free upgrade to Windows 10, which boots faster and looks prettier—giving me, you might think, even less reason to upgrade. (The Gateway’s microphone isn’t certified for Win 10’s conversational assistant Cortana. I’ll live.)
But home office holdouts may find themselves wandering the aisles at Best Buy or Staples before long. The IDC analysts say that fence-sitters will eventually be driven to buy new machines by seeing new products selling at attractive prices, combined with the increasingly undeniable performance and security shortcomings of their old hardware. I can relate: my decrepit desktop has only 4GB of memory and constantly thrashes its hard drive. Sucker is freaking noisy.
So, what will these home office holdouts be buying? Not the traditional tower desktop, which is dead except for rabid gamers (who want slots to insert multiple graphics cards) and workstation users (who are the only ones left who want bays for multiple hard drives now that a single drive can hold 2TB or more). The rest of us can trade our desktops for laptops, which are brilliant choices for home office PCs—ample power (perhaps with an external monitor) when you’re at home, but easily carried when you’re flex-timing it at company headquarters or taking a presentation to a client’s place.
And not rock-bottom-priced, relatively bulky, generic laptops, either. IDC research manager Jay Chou points out, “Even as mainstream desktops and notebooks see their lifetimes stretched ever longer, Apple’s emergence as a top-five global PC vendor in 2015 shows that there can be strong demand for innovative, even premium-priced, systems that put user experience first.”
The thing about home office workers—a thing vendors don’t always understand—is that they’re not consumers who buy mostly on price. They’re business professionals who buy on productivity. Come at them without compelling reasons to upgrade and they’ll sit on their wallets and keep using their existing PCs. Give them genuinely inspiring technology—a dazzling detachable such as the Microsoft Surface Book (see photo above) or HP Spectre x2; a convertible that isn’t clumsy, such as the Lenovo Yoga 900S—and they’ll find imaginative (and soon indispensable) uses for it.
As for me, I have little or no use for tablet mode. But I can be tempted by the lightest, easiest-to-carry ultraportable that offers better than all-day battery life. For the first time, I think my Gateway’s days are numbered; I’m just looking for a three-sided coin to flip among the Apple MacBook, the Dell XPS 13, and the HP Envy 13t that I just reviewed for Computer Shopper.
Home office workers don’t have the luxury of the enterprise, which can deploy just a few systems when, say, evaluating Windows 10; when they buy hardware or software, it goes right into their workflow. That’s reason enough to be cautious—but cautious isn’t the same thing as cold. When vendors deliver value, we’ll reward them.
How about you? Do you cling to venerable tech or splurge on the latest thing? Which products strike you as planned obsolescence? Can you help me find the right laptop? Sound off in the comments below or at email@example.com.