Rebooting the PC
PC manufacturers are trying to revive the PC market. The all new MacBook Pro and Surface Studio are proof.
As PC shipments plummet, manufacturers are introducing upgrades, new form factors, and enhancing the user experience to lure consumers.
While the tech fraternity has been speculating the end of the PC era, two big announcements, in a span of 24 hours, from Microsoft and Apple created some much-needed frenzy in the PC market. On October 26, Microsoft stunned naysayers by unveiling its all-in-one touchscreen desktop PC, the Surface Studio, and the updated version of the Surface Book. The next day, Apple announced the new and improved version of the MacBook Pro series with the Retina-quality, multi-touch display called the Touch Bar, offering a better interface. Dell, too, is working on a creative-oriented PC called the Smart Desk.
PC shipments have been constantly declining – worldwide PC shipments totalled 101 million units in Q1 2016, as total volumes dipped by 13 per cent year on year, to their lowest point since Q2 2011. These numbers reported by Canalys include desktops, notebooks, two-in-ones and tablets.
Several reasons have led to this slump in sales. Tasks such as checking emails, browsing the web, playing games and entertainment (multimedia content), for which users were dependent on big screens such as laptops and desktops, are now easily carried out on smartphones, given their big screen sizes. With uninterrupted internet connectivity and good hardware quality, working on a hand-held smartphone is convenient and efficient. And with a range of smartphones available with varied specifications, there’s one for every budget and usage. This does not make a compelling case for buying new laptops or desktops, and upgrading old ones. Add to that the hike in prices of PCs, owing to the weakening of the local currency across regions against the US dollar, and it becomes a dispensable gadget in the emerging markets.
According to Gartner’s 2016 personal technology survey, a majority of consumers own and use at least three different types of devices in mature markets. Mikako Kitagawa, Principal Analyst at Gartner, says, “Among these devices, the PC is not a high-priority device for the majority of consumers. So they do not feel the need to upgrade their PCs as often as they used to. Some may never decide to upgrade to a PC again.”
The likes of Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Lenovo and HP are not letting the grim market scenario dampen their spirits. They are launching high-end, high-functionality PCs to attract professionals and businesses. In a bid to revive the market, the focus now is on three key parameters – input method, software upgrades and integration across screens. Here’s what you can expect:
Input method: The primary input method for laptops and desktops has always been the keyboard. Hybrids or two-inone convertibles have come up with touch displays in the past, but how often one uses the touch interface over keyboard is anybody’s guess. Apple’s new MacBook Pro has addressed this issue interestingly. Continuing with a non-touch display, the company has added the Touch Bar instead of the function keys. The Touch Bar places controls right at the user’s fingertips and adapts when using the system or apps like Mail, Finder, Calendar, Numbers, GarageBand and Final Cut Pro X, as well as third-party apps. For example, the Touch Bar can show Tabs and Favourites in Safari, enable easy access to emoji in Messages and provide a simple way to edit images. Microsoft is threatening Mac’s dominance with its first attempt at an all-in-one PC, the Surface Studio. As it supports touch input, it can be turned into a canvas by tilting it to a 20-degree angle, letting you paint, edit, and design. What’s even more interesting is the Surface Dial accessory – a big circular dial that can be placed anywhere on the screen of the Studio in various apps to display UI options that are otherwise hidden. From adjusting volume in Groove Music to scrolling through news articles without touching the keyboard or mouse, everyday tasks can be made simple and fun with the Surface Dial. But to leverage these new input methods, a strong app ecosystem is imperative.
software: Manufacturers are now looking at regular updates instead of announcing upgrades every two years – Microsoft’s Windows 10 will be the last numbered version of Windows, and from here on one can expect constant updates. Microsoft has already announced the Windows 10
Will These Announcements Help PCs Get Their Mojo Back?
Creator’s Update that will focus on areas such as productivity, gaming and also 3D, as the software will be capable of quickly scanning, modifying and printing objects with 3D printers. Apple already has an annual update cycle for its macOS in place. The latest, macOS Sierra, gets on board Siri – designed for desktop (Mac) – and is a step towards an evolved, integrated user experience to work more seamlessly between devices. “Hardware is getting more standardised and the incremental improvements in hardware are going to be less frequent. It is the software that will be a big differentiator. The strategy now is to keep upgrading rather than making big releases. A lot of incremental innovations happen through frequent updates. You get quick reactions and can put something else out,” says Akhilesh Tuteja, Partner and Head, Technology, KPMG in India.
IntegratIon across screens though apps: To make PCs relevant again for everyday use, manufacturers are working towards seamlessly integrating them with smartphones. If the system is fully integrated, the user experience can be completely revamped – you can start something on the mobile and finish the work on the PC. For instance, you click a picture on your phone and it instantly transfers to your laptop for editing, for further use in a presentation. The Universal Clipboard feature on the new macOS Sierra and iOS 10 makes it easier to transfer links, text, photos, and more, between devices. When you copy a link on a device, it gets uploaded to iCloud and is available on all other devices you are signed in to with your Apple ID. Apple’s strategy has been to stick to one ecosystem, so everything works smoothly. But not for Windows, not yet, whose phone ecosystem is weak and has to depend on individual OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). But they are all working towards an integrated ecosystem. Software and apps will play a key role, irrespective of the OS and the device you are working on. The update cycle for a phone app is just a month or two; for a PC app, it is close to two years. And that’s why vendors are motivating app developers to not only create apps for all the platforms, but also come up with regular updates for PC apps.
Besides, Gartner predicts that shipments of premium, ultramobile PCs are expected to grow 11 per cent this year. In 2019, Gartner forecasts that this segment – which includes Microsoft’s Surface Pro, Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro and Apple’s MacBook Air – will command the largest share of the PC market in revenue terms, at $57.6 billion. The report says that innovative two-in-one products will entice users to not only replace their PC, but also consider upgrading to a device with more functionality and flexibility.
Interesting times ahead for PCs.