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I Love What’s Happening to the PC (Premium)

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For a device type that is supposedly in freefall, the PC has never looked better to me as a purpose-driven device for productivity, gaming, and more.

And, yes, “purpose-driven” is my new phrase when it comes to PCs. With PCs no longer the general-purpose computer that most people use for most tasks most of the time—that’s the smartphone now—this platform has adapted to embrace a more limited but also more focused role in most people’s lives. It’s something they turn to from time-to-time, when the screen size, lack of a keyboard, or missing productivity functionality of a phone simply won’t do.

But for those who literally need a PC—for daily productivity work, for creative professional solutions, for engineering or scientific purposes, for gaming, or whatever—there is literally nothing like it, despite attempts to morph tablets or even phones into pseudo-PCs in some modern take on alchemy. These emerging platforms, too, just don’t measure up, and won’t, at least not for the foreseeable future. They are toys where the PC is a workstation.

Too, it is interesting to me that the PC industry collectively observes three major milestones each year for its biggest announcements: CES in January; Computex in May; and IFA in September. During these events, PC makers big and small announce new hardware while chipset makers like Intel announce new processor generations and other advances.

By comparison, the smartphone industry basically observes just one major industry-wide announcement event, at MWC in February, while the biggest players, like Samsung and Apple, hold their own separate events to further separate them from the hordes of knock-offs, Chinese and otherwise.

I’m also starting to look at the new normal of the PC market in a more positive light.

That is, while many regard the contraction of the PC industry as a bad thing, I have come to celebrate it, much as I celebrated the initial release of Windows 10 four years ago. Here, we see an industry embracing its roots in desktop-centric computing and productivity while expanding in ways that make sense within the context of what a PC is genuinely good at. (In Windows 10’s case, it re-embraced the desktop and stepped back from the cliff of the “touch-first” interfaces that killed Windows 8.)

For example, I wrote recently about Acer’s attempt to create a new premium PC sub-market aimed specifically at creative professionals. Instead of just releasing well-made and expensive PCs, Acer discovered what these users really want: Gaming PC power without the noise and boy-racer aesthetics.

Acer’s approach is interesting almost specifically because it’s not an experiment: The firm delivered not just a handful of PCs but an entire line of new products. But Acer isn’t alone in innovating in the PC space. This week at Computex, for example, Intel seemed to finally cast off its ineptness and announced a new generation of 10 nm processors. HP is pushing forward with its embrace of natural materials, in this case with wood. Many PC makers, seeing a future of folding and dual-screen devices, have started taking steps in that direction as well, with ASUS’s new two-display PC a hint at this future.

Further interesting as a sign of health, Lenovo, the world’s biggest PC maker, recently announced record annual revenues specifically because of its heady PC sales growth. It’s hard to overstate the difficulty of a dominant market player growing share faster than its smaller competitors. But Lenovo actually grew unit sales faster than any of the other top 5 PC makers in the most recent quarter. It also grew marketshare by 10 percentage points in the most recent fiscal year alone.

Lenovo is doing something right. And that something, from what I can see, is delivering on the core value of the PC. Aside from a few tablet-first designs, Lenovo’s PC lineup is a premium-heavy mix of productivity focus with a side order of gaming, a purpose-driven (sorry) lineup that embraces those qualities that continue to make the PC special.

And that purpose, that focus, is literally what makes the PC special.

It’s that unique combination of power and suitability to the task at hand, whether it’s pure productivity work, hardcore gaming, or anything else that explodes past the capabilities of a typical phone or tablet. PCs will always have some place in most people’s lives. But for those of us who rely on the PC, who use it every day, this platform is just getting better and better all the time. And it’s time to stop mourning and celebrate that.

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