Gartner’s preliminary forecasts point to a 14.3 increase in PC shipments in 2010 over 2009 as well as a forecast of 409 million PCs sold in 2011. While these numbers are exciting to anyone following the sad-sack IT industry, remember that Gartner estimated 17.9 percent growth in last September for the end of 2010 and 18.1 percent growth for 2011. Clearly “not too bad” is good enough these days.
The report also found that folks are holding on to PCs longer because “because there will be less need to replace them as often” and that there is an increase in thin clients in the enterprise. PCs are also getting it in the knees because Western consumers are deciding to buy tablets (read “the iPad”) instead of a new PC. Emerging markets are helping buoy sales but not by much.
So, whither PCs? The desktop form factor isn’t going anywhere. However, the introduction of low-power “acceptable” chips like those found in the Logitech Revue and many mobile devices, the divide between PC and a general “home computing” experience is lessening. The PC is now like a NAS or like heavy iron in a supercomputing facility: it’s designed to run more complex things and to serve data to the other devices on the network. Interestingly, only gamers need the kind of heavy iron we’re talking about here while the rest of us can get along with a $500 PC stuck in the basement. Even gaming doesn’t require that much firepower these days, provided you don’t want a totally cutting edge experience.
At CES this year we can expect a few things: first, more Google TV devices on the network as well as small form factor PCs for folks who don’t need much power. The tower configuration is cheap and will always be with us. However, many want to hide their PCs away, out of sight, and get most of their media consumption done on portable devices.