Once upon a time, the entire technology industry was built upon the sale of personal computers. Now it’s smartphones, tablets and servers.
So what will become of the PC in a world where Apple is the only computer maker reporting growth in Western Europe, and HP wants to exit the PC business?
The rate of decline of the PC can be particularly noted here in Ireland. Some 561,000 personal computers were bought last year, out of which 280,000 were bought by the business sector. But so far this year, according to IDC, only 240,000 have been bought across the board and it is likely less than 500,000 PCs will be bought here this year.
According to IDC analyst Eszther Morvay, on the other hand some 130,000 tablet computers (mostly iPads) will be bought in Ireland this year.
"Other markets throughout the financial crisis that began in 2008 and 2009 were saved by the large momentum of PC renewals in the commercial sector. However, that wasn’t the case for Ireland.
"The reason why we’re seeing a massive decline in the rest of Europe is tablet momentum. In Ireland, however, the consumer market is less influenced by tablet hype but more by the economic situation.
"However, for the commercial sector, there are some good trends. Many renewals were postponed in 2008 and 2009 and many SMBs went bankrupt. But in 2010 and 2011, enterprise renewals have returned. Multinational investment deals have had a positive impact on computer sales in Ireland and a host of American and international companies are driving a lot of the renewals."
So, if we need computers to get our jobs done, what are the options for companies that don’t have the cash to buy new computers?
According to virtualisation giant VMware’s global chief market technologist Brian Gammage, the answer lies in a trend known as desktop virtualisation.
"Best practice for IT managers in the past was to stop the world from changing. End-user computing used to take up 40pc of any firm’s IT budget, so now fewer companies are buying new stuff. Computers are high-ticket items and budgets aren’t going up."
This is all contributing to a trend known as the ‘consumerisation of IT’, where individuals themselves who are buying their own notebook computers, phones and tablets to fuel their digital lives are discovering the equipment they have at home is often better than what they are given at work.
"This brings IT managers into conflict with users. Because they have better equipment it looks like they are flouting the IT managers’ control, especially when it comes to issues like compliance."
Also around the corner is the next generation of operating system from Microsoft – Windows 8 – which the software giant is developing to work seamlessly across PCs, tablets and phones to enable computing on any device.
"Desktop virtualisation effectively takes all your desktop computers and puts them on a web server, which makes it easier to manage."
Users can effectively access their workplace desktop on any device such as an iPad or Android tablet – all they need is their password and they can work from anywhere they have an internet connection.
It also means computers that were destined for the scrapheap can be kept around.
At VMware’s annual VMworld shindig in Las Vegas, the company launched a software called VMware View 5 that enables this new style of working.
"Until now, each time you gave your worker a new PC it would have a lifetime of typically four years. But it’s about equipping the workforce to do their work. This is important if the economic environment gets tougher and more competitive," says Gammage.
"The time has come for firms to take control of the end-user computing journey, not blindly buy new machines every few years."
Photo: Brian Gammage, global chief market technologist, VMware