Will Smartphones Ever Fully Supplant the Laptop PC?

Will you buy another desktop computer or laptop? Or, can your smartphone meet your technology needs? Should your business continue buying PCs? The IT infrastructure industry is divided, but the answer affects more than you think.

Here’s why….

As Intel’s announcement of 12,000 layoffs by mid-2017 starts to sink in, many analysts are pointing to the news as more evidence that the PC is dead—or on life-support. Global experts are now predicting that smartphones and tablets will increasingly replace desktop and laptop PCs.

And this trend is not new.

Back in February 2015, Wired magazine proclaimed that in less than two years, your smartphone could be your only computer. Here’s an excerpt:

“With each passing season, another wave of mobile devices is released that’s more capable and more powerful than the generation preceding it. We’re at the point where anyone armed with a current model smartphone or tablet is able to handle almost all of their at-home—and even at-work—tasks without needing anything else. We’re living proof: for the last two years, WIRED has been able to cover events like CES almost exclusively using our smartphones.”

Only a few months earlier in late 2014, Gartner declared that smartphones would be the internet access device of choice by 2018.

No doubt, everyone offers some caveats for word processing and a few other office tasks, but the downward trend in PC sales is unmistakable. And the innovative ramifications for public- and private-sector enterprises are huge. At stake: What will the office of the future look like in the decade that begins in 2020?

The answers to these mobile device questions are already shaping enterprise IT architectures, including security, storage and analytic capabilities planned. The future office is starting to look very different than the traditional office with a desktop.

By the Numbers

According to PC World:

During its quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, Intel said it now expects the PC market to decline in the “high single digits” throughout all of 2016, rather than the mid-single-digit drop it previously expected. IDC and Gartner said recently that the PC market dropped between 10 and 12 percent during the first quarter. “Our projection of the PC market … is more cautious than third-party estimates,” chief financial officer Stacy Smith told analysts.

Other findings include:

  • A significant increase—from 31 percent last year to 42 percent—in the proportion of internet users who say they only use websites or apps that they have used before.
  • The survey found 70 percent of adults now use a smartphone, the device most used for accessing social media and the preferred device for the majority of online activities.
  • Mobile phones have become the media device people would miss most, overtaking the television set.

Meanwhile, HP has also struggled in the shrinking printer and PC markets. This article from Business Insider described HP’s restructuring plans with more layoffs. One leader said, “We have not yet seen the anticipated Windows 10 stimulation of demand that we would have hoped for.”

Not So Fast?

But is the PC really dead? I don’t think so. At least, not yet.

I still hear of cost-conscious enterprises buying lots of laptops and even desktops. Many businesses are still not ready to pay for everyone to have a smartphone, or provide a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program—with the expensive monthly telecom fees.

There are plenty of people who think your smartphone will never replace your PC at work. This Indian Express article, for example, points out that “most of us still prefer to run to an old Windows XP PC in the office than work on a smaller touchscreen, even if it is better in more ways than one.”

IT Architecture Implications

Timing is everything. So when should CxOs accelerate the shift away from the traditional PCs?

This is an important buying decision, and I am sure that some CTOs and CIOs will get the timing wrong for their business and pay for it one way or the other. Still, this transformation has already begun for most, and most decisions are being made on a business-function-by-business-function basis.

For cash-strapped governments, the move away from PCs may be slow, but for innovative startups, the opportunities to jump to new approaches will push the decline in PC sales to continue.

Nevertheless, the trend is clear. Examples like these students who wrote term papers on their smartphones will only drive faster migration toward smartphones as more millennials enter the workforce.

Final Thoughts

I still love my two laptops — one that I use for home and other for work. I do not see a smartphone taking over all my technology duties in the next two years. I just perform too many PC functions on a laptop.

At the same time, my younger children also teach me a related story. They definitely want a smartphone before a laptop. There is a message there for all of us.

But as for taking sides in this current debate (which my daughter wants me to do), I have a gut feeling that the PC is only “mostly dead.”

Like the Wesley character in The Princess Bride, a new PC or laptop may still fight one more battle for you. So don’t throw away those “back-to-school PC sale” flyers just yet.

What are your thoughts? Will you buy another desktop or laptop PC?

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