Thursday, September 13, 2012

Will tablets replace PCs?

I just bet Professor Daniel Lemire $100 that they won't.

At least, any time soon. The specific terms of the bet are, "In some quarter of 2015, the unit sales of tablets will be at least twice the unit sales of traditional PCs, in the USA." Loser donates $100 USD to the charity of the winner's choice.

How did I get to this point? About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post for CACM, "Who needs a tablet?"

The purposely inflammatory title overstates the main point, which is that rather than replace PCs, people are mostly buying tablets in addition to their PC ([1] [2]).

Even so, predictions in the article have already proven wrong. Tablet sales did not "stall around the same level where netbook sales stalled". Netbook sales peaked and stalled around 40M units/year worldwide ([1] [2]). Tablet sales passed 60M units/year worldwide in 2011 and are projected to be twice that this year.

So, tablets show no sign of stalling where netbooks did, but they are still being bought in addition to, not in replacement of, PCs. While many are taking some of the time they would have spent on their PC and spending it on their mobile or tablet instead, they still own and spend time on a laptop or PC.

This bet doesn't quite say what I want to say. What I want to say is that PCs aren't going away any time soon. They definitely are not going away by the end of 2015. Eventually, yes, but the change is not going to happen in less than three years.

What the bet actually says is more about how fast people in the US will buy new tablets in 2015 compared to replacing PCs. Projections I've seen put PC unit sales in the US around 16M units/quarter and mostly flat through 2015, tablet unit sales currently at 7M/quarter in the US and growing rapidly (projections vary from 10-16M/quarter by 2016). Seems unlikely that the projections would be that far off, so I took the bet.

But the more interesting questions are:
  1. What will it take to get people to stop using PCs?
  2. Will the tablet market continue to be dominated by expensive devices (like the $600 iPad) or convert almost entirely to low priced tablets (currently $200 with the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, but probably soon around $100)?
  3. Will anything coming in the next five years, including tablets, get people to stop buying and using PCs entirely? Or will people continue to buy and use multiple computing devices?
I've said what I think (breakthroughs in input/output, almost all $100 tablets, no). What do you think?


benoit said...

I would bet against you. I believe that most people will keep a PC to do heir taxes and other chores, but will use a tablet for the fun stuff: watching movies, reading your blog, checking their friends picture streams, etc. So which device will be renewed the most frequently? Especially at $100 or $200...

(Written on Nexus 7)

Andre Vellino said...

I'll bet on with you Greg. Tablets are display devices for consuming the creative output of others. PCs are content-creation devices. Unless we all become *only* consumers, PCs have life left. The only question might be-define a PC? The distinction between, say, a 11" Macbook Air and an Asus Transformer Prime is getting fuzzy and will get fuzzier over the next 3 years.

Anonymous said...

For me it's very simple.
Many/most of us already have a PC and it's years that even a low end pc rig can run (almost) everything you want and you could eventually think of.

So there's no urgency to change PCs as there was 20 years ago.

A tablet can't do what a PC do, but it's handy and for many uses is enought.

So, often now.... people buy a tablet to do things that can't be done with a PC (like surfing web while in bath) and decide to not upgrade the already own pc as is enought.

MJC said...

I think the growth is less about cost and more about usability or more specifically- productivity in the pragmatist user category. I love the Ipad and the Kindle and use them to browse, for quick searches,etc- but for business productivity (writing long emails, using business apps, etc) I still use my desktop. Its still too cumbersome to write and be really productive on these tablets.

MJC said...

Todd said...

I agree PCs aren't going away, but I think we have yet to reach the market share balance point. Initially families had a single desktop PC and when laptops got cheap enough everyone wanted their own laptop.

Now everyone doesn't need their own laptop so for some families their PC market share will decline, others will just add tablets to complement their current devices.

Plus, as someone already said it's easy for consumers to hold onto their old PCs for a while longer so they can buy a tablet to see how it fits into their life.

ReaderThinker said...

What do you think of the hybrid strategy, where you have a tablet that docks to become a more full-fledged device, or one that comes with a keyboard somehow? In the past, this has been a major losing proposition, but Microsoft seems to be betting on it again to some degree. Most importantly, it seems to be hard to correctly classify for your bet. I'm supposing it's a tablet, and I think the success of these hybrid devices is the only way that you lose.

Phillip said...

The use of a home PC or Office PC is far much different form the way i use a tablet. Yes' tablets are potable, but easy to lose, so i can't keep important data on my tablet as opposed to a PC. So PC's will stay but their technology will advance.