Demise of the desktop?

What’s going to be the buzz consumer product this Christmas? Early indications are that it won’t be the PC, despite the boost...

What’s going to be the buzz consumer product this Christmas? Early indications are that it won’t be the PC, despite the boost given to it last year by the Web’s elevation in the public consciousness. One problem, identified by our columnist Barry Young two weeks ago, is saturation, with high levels of computer ownership in most first-world countries.

It’s a situation which vendors have already had to address in the corporate market, where we are seeing a shift from desktops to servers, storage, laptops and services. But last year, the consumer sector was the big saviour for Compaq’s PC business, helping to balance the difficulties seen in the corporate market.

Mobile power

If the US is anything to go by, other devices are starting to make a big impact, particularly handheld computers, and we can expect the same to happen here. Meanwhile, we have been much quicker than our American cousins in signing up to the mobile phone and there’s every indication it will be a big seller again this Christmas.

In addition, the Bush TV, which allows Internet access through a TV, could prove a worthy alternative to the PC in terms of offering a viable consumer Web platform. So are we witnessing a shift away from the desktop as a consumer product? If we are, it shows how hollow the boasts were that the PC would usurp the role of the TV. Perhaps in seeking to portray the PC as the primary point of Internet access, the marketeers have moved consumer perceptions away from its strengths as a computing platform.

When it comes to Web access, many other devices are able or will be able to provide that function. And most of them will probably do it in a more convenient way for consumers than the PC.

PCs losing the mantle

And the big tussle between PC and TV has already been won, to a large extent. Early moves to incorporate TV technology in the PC failed to help the Wintel platform usurp the box in the corner. Now, if anything, the momentum appears to be behind the TV in making inroads into the role performed by the PC.

The development of the ASP model could also undermine the PC’s position in the home. The PC will no longer perform what is seen as its primary role — a storage facility for applications. Its future as a games platform is also far from viable given the launch of PlayStation 2 and the forthcoming release of the X Box console, which has effectively stripped out the (far from convincing) games role provided by the PC.

And the ability to listen to CDs and watch DVD movies on the PC, while attractive at first glance, is not a real attraction. Everyone knows the hi-fi and the DVD player hooked up to a TV perform these functions much better and in a more acceptable way for the consumer.

It could be argued that the failure of the strategy of trying to make the PC the ubiquitous device for most home functions is evidenced in it having signally failed to make inroads into areas already fulfilled by existing devices — such as hi-fis and TVs. If you accept that argument, there is every indication that the PC is nearing the end of its life as a consumer device.

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