A little while back, we started to hear a few voices speaking up against the drumbeat of doom. No, PCs weren’t dead. They were maybe even coming back.
Well, they’re not.
Market research outfit IDC has revised its prediction of PC shipments in 2015 downward. It’s projecting a drop of nearly 5 percent this year, worse than its earlier forecast of a 3.3 percent decline. In all, IDC expects 293.1 million PC units expected to ship this year.
To put that figure in perspective, Apple sold more than 74 million iPhones during the last quarter alone. At an annualized rate, that would put iPhone sales alone above IDC’s prediction for the entire PC market. Apple won’t likely sustain that pace—it tends to sell more iPhones at the end of the year—but its success is emblematic of the criss-crossing trajectories of mobile devices and PCs.
And not just in terms of the number of devices moving. The PC industry is also losing money. According to IDC, the PC market shrank 0.8 percent last year to $201 billion. This year, it expects that number to balloon to 6.9 percent. By 2019, the firm expects the overall market to shrink to $175 billion, or several billion less than Apple’s 2014 revenue ($183 billion).
No, PCs weren’t dead. They were maybe even coming back. Well, they’re not.
None of this should come as a surprise in an age where mobile devices have become the dominant computing platform. But this latest prognosis is still worth noting for the way it signals the much larger tectonic shift currently underway in the industry.
No More PC Power
Yesterday, Intel—the primary supplier of microprocessors for PCs—reduced its revenue outlook in the first quarter by almost a billion dollars. The company acknowledged it is seeing weakening demand from businesses for desktop computers and lower inventory levels across the industry supply chain. Among other short-term rationales, the hardware company pointed to businesses delaying PC purchases in anticipation of upgrading out of Microsoft’s outdated Windows XP operating system. It also blamed challenging economic and currency conditions, especially in Europe, as possible explanations for its diminished outlook.
But those concerns start to sound like excuses in the context of the direction of personal computing as a whole. Case in point: earlier this year it emerged that Google’s capital expenditures had hit $11 billion, exceeding the $10 billion spent by Intel. Since Intel’s capital spending has traditionally served as a kind of tech industry high-water mark, Google’s ascendance was a big deal. Intel has typically spent its money on property, manufacturing plants, and chip-building equipment, while Google spent its cash on the data centers, computer servers, and networking equipment that underlies its online empire.
As Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple all follow suit in spending unprecedented amounts on data centers, that can’t be all bad for Intel, which makes many of the chips on which those data centers run. But it shows just how much the power dynamic has shifted. It’s not the companies that make the basic components that run computers—especially PCs—that have the power anymore. It’s the companies that make the things with which users—especially mobile users—interact that are building and profiting off tech’s future.