The "death of the PC" is not a new concept--ever since Internet-capable smartphones emerged on the market, a growing majority of analysts have been forecasting the demise of the traditional PC. Now, it appears that death is right around the corner, but what, exactly, is coming next?
There's no one factor responsible for the death of PCs. Mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic for the first time this year, indicating a turn in the growing schism between the two. Google's responses, in the form of its "Mobilegeddon" update and a later admission that desktop sites aren't really necessary anymore, further indicate that the tech world is finally ready to move on. Sales numbers for PCs are equally telling, with a dramatic drop in PC shipments this year (and steady drops from the last several years as well). But what numbers are increasing to replace them?
The Case for Tablets
Tablets weren't taken seriously when the Apple iPad first launched the trend, but they've remained a relatively steady force in the world of hardware for years. However, they seem to be in a poor position to compensate for the drop in PC interest--the iPad itself has seen regular, almost predictable drops in shipments for the last two years, and international shipments of tablets in general are down more than 8 percent. With no major innovations on the horizon, the tablet doesn't seem poised to take the place of the PC.
The Case for Hybrid Laptops
Hybrid laptops, with characteristics of both traditional PC laptops and tablets, emerged on the scene a few years ago as a "middle ground" for consumers ready but reluctant to move on from the PC. In theory, they seemed innovative, but the numbers are proving otherwise. In terms of shipments, hybrid laptops are remaining steady, with no major increases to make up for the major drop in desktop devices. Windows 10, Microsoft's latest attempt to breathe life into the PC world, has been well received and downloaded by millions, but that alone isn't enough to keep the hybrid laptop alive and popular for the coming years.
The Case for Phones
The fact that mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic shows that consumers aren't afraid to use their mobile phones as a primary device for Internet searches and information gathering, but what about all the other needs that a conventional PC meets? Phones' small screens and limited processing power have been major limiting factors, but new advancements could theoretically make up for those shortcomings. The fact that Microsoft is now working actively with long-time rival Apple could be a sign that the PC's former strengths--namely, Office products and general business use--are coming to Apple products. During Apple's most recent demonstration, these products were shown on an iPad, but a transition to a smaller mobile device isn't beyond reason.
The Case for Phablets
Marrying the mobility of a phone with the functionality of a tablet, phablets are starting to become the new norm for mobile phones. With tablet-like functionality available in phone form, the death of tablets could easily be accelerated, and the traditional smart "phone" could disappear altogether. Shipments of phablets are expected to rise dramatically over the next two years at least, and on an international level. However, smartwatches and similar wearable devices were also predicted to be the "next big thing" by forecasted numbers, but those numbers have yet failed to come to fruition.
The Bottom Line
There's no clear victor in the battle for "PC replacement," though phablets are making the strongest case for longevity in the market. Shipments are up and are expected to continue rising, whereas most of the other contenders in the battle for PC replacement--tablets, hybrid laptops, and mobile phones--are either remaining steady or falling consistently. Though a better, more complete replacement may remain unseen on the horizon, phablets could serve as a functional intermediary until they arrive.