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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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Comments (38)

38 responses to “I Love What’s Happening to the PC (Premium)”

  1. Avatar

    will

    The biggest missing part of this....Microsoft. Yes, Intel is finally getting 10mm out the door. This is a big wall that they have been able to move past. However, the device maker that I would think would be leading hardware side would be Microsoft and the Surface line. I for one would like to see them not be so scared to lead again.

    • Avatar

      derylmccarty

      In reply to will: Except for my Yeti coffee mug, there is little on my home (and only) desk that isn't Surface. I would love for the "new" SB3 to be a 10nm high 4s-GHz behemoth with all the bells and whistles and a real 20 hour battery. I'd even pay 4k for it and not even expect 4k in return. That said, I don't see MSFT as scared; "cautious" is closer to the target. I am not attempting humorous cynicism here, that is Paul's job; but upgrading the SPro6, Surface Laptop and SB lines are huge investments with unknown return for a company whose primary businesses are arguably software and software services. OTOH, if anyone can pull off a high quality software and hardware leap it is Panos.


      • Avatar

        VancouverNinja

        In reply to derylmccarty:

        Funny I am standing here with my Yeti and all Surface components - but...I do have two Acer touchscreens. Your post felt familar.

      • Avatar

        wright_is

        In reply to derylmccarty:

        Cautious is the word, along with boutique. They are, or were, making products that other manufacturers were supposed to aspire to make, to kickstart the market. They were never high volume devices.

        I had the SP3, which a previous employer bought off me, so that I could use it at work. When I left the company, I seriously looked at the SP4, but looked at my usage, I spent 99% of the time in laptop mode. In the end, I went with the Spectre X360 and I currently have a ThinkPad T480 for work.

        The Surface line is generally very good, but it aims to create and exploit new niches, with the exception of the Laptop, and turn them into new product categories for the OEMs.

    • Avatar

      madthinus

      In reply to will:

      One can argue, that Surface is the reason we see so many premium well made PC's. They build the PC they wanted their partners to build. And their partners copied it and since then have become bolder and more experimental. The day of Macbook Air clones might be finally over. I will celebrate that!

      • Avatar

        hrlngrv

        In reply to madthinus:

        Surface is the reason we see so many premium well made PC's

        Debatable. Lenovo had ThinkPads, including the Carbon variants, and Dell had its Precision line before there were Surface RT tablets. For that matter, my son had a huge & heavy Toshiba gaming laptop about a decade ago which was as solid as one could want until its charging port became fubar. (College students, alcohol and electronics don't mix.) Few bought them. I doubt high-end PCs make up more than 1/6 of all PCs sold these days. Certainly not being purchased by the enterprise which employs me.

  2. Avatar

    madthinus

    Welcome to the age of trucks.

  3. Avatar

    dallasnorth40

    I'm going to be in the market to replace my main desktop and ultrabook within the next 12 months. My timing couldn't be better.

  4. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    That picture! Fake wood grain! Memories of early 1970s cassette tape players!

  5. Avatar

    docpaul

    I like to see this article, because I've been thinking the same thing. There's been a neat PC Renaissance lately.

    I would love a new laptop. And building a gaming desktop has long been on my bucket list. I just can't find a single need that justifies either of these. Believe me, I've tried to find one. But my 7 year old ThinkPad T520 still meets all my actual needs.

    Sorry PC manufacturers. Keep up the good work though. ?

  6. Avatar

    RadarOReilly

    "For a device type that is supposedly in freefall..."


    Straw-man much? Who the heck said it was in freefall?

  7. Avatar

    wright_is

    Ooh, an HP Atari 2600!! Want!

  8. Avatar

    chrisrut

    Wow, y'all need to go out to a local skydiving center and get a better feel for the definition of "freefall."


    The PC market is best characterized as mature, and like the auto industry, large growth is on the agenda; the small shrinkages over the last few years are clear indicators of this maturity. By re-focusing on enhancing the virtues inherent in the workstation/laptop form factor, the market can re-focus on its "natural" niche. i.e. tasks appropriate to workstation/laptop form-factors.


    I see the PC market as very healthy, and the emergence of variations WITHIN the form - such as Chromebooks - a sure sign that the industry is now fully aware that it must get back to the business of competing for share of a relatively static but huge market by improving the breed. There are many such indicators.


    The market will remain relatively stable - until - when and if - some disruptive technology provides a better way of providing productivity solutions. Keyboard-I/O modeled on human fingers and display screens matched to our visual fields-of-view will remain incredibly useful for the foreseeable future.


    Phones and such are for when you want to carry it around with you.

    PCs are for when you want to climb into it...

  9. Avatar

    RobertJasiek

    Paul is right. My previous, 9.5 years old PC and my new PC do about the same but the new one's power consumption has dropped to 1/10, size shrunk to 1/30 and assembly time to 1/30. A desktop CPU in a desktop is replaced by a mobile CPU in a tiny barebone. However, what has almost remained constant are the CPU's single thread speed and SSD access to many small files.

  10. Avatar

    ChristopherCollins

    If HP would get off their ass and use a precision touchpad, I might look at them again. I tried two HP models and that trackpad performance was an instant return on both. Lenovo gets it right, though. I rolled out a fleet of them at work.


    The Surface line has done it's job well, in that it made others think outside the box and innovate laptops. Before Microsoft started pushing, things were getting stale.

  11. Avatar

    dontbe evil

    and all of them are millions of years ahead of macbooks

  12. Avatar

    silmou

    The SFFPC subreddit has grown exponentially in the last 2 years. For a niche market in a market that's supposedly in freefall, it's doing surprisingly well.

  13. Avatar

    glenn8878

    It's purpose is work, some household task, multi-media, and photo archiving. It's purpose is practically the same for several decades. The tablet form factor was a dud. Touch screens have gone nowhere in use scenarios. We are exactly where we were before Windows 8.0 came upon us with a scream.


    What I would like to see is more modularity so users can turn a PC or laptop into more of what we want it to do. But despite how powerful the CPU is, it's never responsive or speedy. Manufacturers should insist on SSDs for more responsive PCs. PCs should know you're there if they include some necessary sensors and speak to you and power on devices and components. Windows need a better package of software features in the mobile era.

    • Avatar

      hrlngrv

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Touch screens on laptops are subjective. Some people do seem to like them. OTOH, touch screens on large monitors for true desktop use have gone nowhere because they're an ergonomic nightmare waiting to happen when screens are more than a foot/31 cm away from the keyboard-mouse. It was predictable that touch was never going to get traction in enterprise workplace computing aside from huge wall-mounted devices in conference rooms.

      • Avatar

        VancouverNinja

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        This mantra is so wrong over touchscreens. We have Surface studio's and Acer touchscreens. Our team is constantly using them and when they are sitting at a none touchscreen it is always good for a laugh when they start tapping at it. PC's without touchscreens, for most people, are like having a car without bluetooth today. Its a shame there are people who push this point of view on to people when it is patently wrong.

        • Avatar

          hrlngrv

          In reply to VancouverNinja:

          Businesses using Surface Studios probably number in the dozens worldwide, certainly not in the thousands. IOW, your workplace experience may be unrepresentative. In financial services, the risk engineers don't allow touch screen desktop monitors, and the purchasing people are perfectly happy about that as that saves money.

          Not so much bluetooth as wings on the back of cars, and following that analogy, beneficial to about the same % of those who have them. But they look cool, sorta.

  14. Avatar

    Rob_Wade

    As I've said, there are things for which certain form factors and designs simply are best suited. I have a home music/video studio and the primary computer there also serves as my VR gaming computer. The sheer power of every component and upgrade capability of virtually every component in it makes it, as a traditional tower PC, unmatched in capacity, capability and flexibility of any other form factor. While you can certainly buy heavy-hitter laptops to match some of its capability, you have very little upgrade capability. Now, if you're fine with that, and want to only buy one device that meets your current gaming/etc needs and it must be portable, those premium laptops make perfect sense. You won't get that experience from a tablet or certainly not your phone.


    I don't find mobile gaming enjoyable at all, partially because I now prefer the full-on immersive experience and partially because I'm SO picky on the kinds of games I play (which boils down to ONE at the moment), a gaming laptop is too expensive and too big to be of value to me. When I'm mobile my demands typically morph into artistic and more traditional mobile work--Office products, some light audio and video editing, social media, digital artwork, and music charting for my various endeavors. For all this the Surface Pro is absolutely perfect. It's not too big, it's certainly light, and when I don't need the Type Cover it's easily removed and I can do my artwork or music in a manner that I find most comfortable. I can't get this from ANY smartphone.


    When it comes to smartphones, I just can't stomach trying to carry some behemoth that's way too big for my hand. The kind of "work" I do on one is reduced to social networking, email and photography. Occasionally, I need to do the "you must edit this immediately" Office work, but anything beyond that just makes no sense on a device that SHOULD fit comfortably in your hand and your pocket (which none of the monstrous 6" and above devices fit). And these folding devices are an insult to both smartphones and tablets, being inadequate for either function.


    So, yes, it seems to me that we are gradually seeing a settling-in of form factors that emphasize certain REAL function and feature combinations. There will continue to be experimentation as new technology comes into play. Sadly, I think some things are going to be rushed out with the hopes of catching on but without the benefit of significant use case or without the tech being truly ready for prime time. The folding screens, for example, are perfect for some kinds of application, but aren't ready for what they're TRYING to shove out there. I should think that the emphasis for the folding screen technology would best be served by applying that to making traditional single-screen devices more resistant to breaking--if the screen itself can absorb the shock of a fall then there's less need for cases that have to absorb it (and which typically make the things bigger).


    I think the bigger focus for new tech needs to be with AR/VR getting smaller and more wearable. Again, I point to the example of the Hulu series "The First". The imagined tech in those glasses was EXACTLY where this needs to go. Small, wearable, networkable and capable of AR/VR. AND FOR CONSUMERS. I am SO sick of everything focusing on the enterprise. I'm of the opinion that, eventually, the concept of the enterprise will disappear as the workforce becomes more mobile, more connected and more virtual. If 5G (and whatever comes after) is going to revolutionize everything, then it's not hard to guess that eventually most of us will simply plug in to whatever company we negotiate to work for/with. Most people will simply be contracted workers and that, as a human resource, companies competing for our talent will "take us as we are"...that includes our preferred method to work. BYOD will become UYOD (Use Your Own Device). The cloud and IoT will mean our work will be completely device agnostic. Right now, I think this idea scares the hell out of IT departments of the enterprise. They're going to have to get over themselves before all is said and done.


    I want to use specific types of hardware for specific capabilities, and I'm not willing to compromise just to adopt a so-called "one-size-fits-all" contraption. Because there's no such thing.

    • Avatar

      hrlngrv

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      . . . AND FOR CONSUMERS. . . .

      Someday, but AR makes more sense sooner in workplace scenarios. It'll arrive first as a workplace tool, then become a consumer toy over time. Like portable phones going from the 1970s to 1990s. Enterprises are far more likely than consumers to be willing to pay to flesh out offerings and develop standard approaches.

      As for mobile workforce, makes sense in sales and service, not so much for analysis and accounting. If you believe regulated industries like US financial services or healthcare insurance and billing are going to take employees as they are any time in the next several decades, you don't work in those sectors.

      • Avatar

        Rob_Wade

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        I can tell you right now, AR has a MUCH more limited opportunity set where I work than it would in my daily life. I don't consider it a "toy". The very first AR experience I had was with the HERE City Lens on my Windows Phone 7. It was brilliant. I travel a lot, so this app came in handy almost daily. Later, the Bing Vision feature came into play. The ability to hold the phone camera up to anything in a foreign language and immediately see it translated was incredibly useful. Same for the ability to view something, have it recognized and immediately be able to purchase it. Similarly, the Bing music recognition was just as useful. We've largely gone BACKWARDS from those kinds of things.


        To your contention regarding the mobile workforce, I never said it would happen overnight, and I certainly recognize there will be areas of resistance. I have friends, though, who work for larger banks and they do, indeed, operate more and more in a telework situation. Similarly, I know people in the billing arenas who also telework. My point was less about specific industries, and more about the inclination of the actual workforce and the technology moving swiftly to open up a much more mobile, de-centralized workforce. I think you're limiting your perspective to behaviors based on current tech rather than where, I believe, the tech is going. The more platform- and device-agnostic a system--collaborative or otherwise--becomes, the more an enterprise will need to focus more on who will interact than with what. Again, I am convinced cloud maturity and IoT, with growing pipeline capacities, are going to drive this. If business doesn't have to care what employees are using when they are contracted to work for them, and employees have a device or devices that they can seamlessly and securely manage their personal life and work life, that's where this will lead.

        • Avatar

          hrlngrv

          In reply to Rob_Wade:

          AR would be most useful for people who are familiar with some aspects of a class of procedures but not the details of all such related procedures. E.g., rural emergency room surgeons knowing how to save lives but perhaps not how to save limbs. IOW, guidance for ER surgeons who aren't board-certified orthopedic reconstruction surgeons for how to stabilize patients and their parts for transportation to larger medical facilities with specialists. More mundane examples would be auto mechanics fully experienced with Toyotas and Subarus able to use AR to find their way around VWs or Fiats.

          We may differ over whether writing translation is AR. I agree that it's useful, but if the result would be the same if the writing were on an actual street sign or on a painting of that street sign, the reality bit is problematic.

          As for view something, have it recognized and available for purchase, presumably online rather than in situ, smacks of show rooming. Me, I'd feel guilty not buying it where I saw it. I know, consideration is so old fashioned.

          Areas of resistance. You really can't conceive of any jobs which might be more efficient with workers concentrated in the same place? There may be more jobs which could be done from anywhere, but there will always be some jobs which need to be done in specific places and/or by groups of people in physical proximity. Cynicism warning: there's too much commercial real estate in the world for commercial landlords not to do whatever they can to inhibit a more mobile workforce.

          Re where tech is going, can you name anyone working on Big Data on their phones? Or AI in terms of developing inference engines for others to use? As for employers or organizations engaging contractors not caring about the tools, hardware and software, their employees or contractors use, I could see MSFT, Oracle, SAP, Siemens, Lenovo, Dell, Samsung, even Apple caring a bit and doing whatever they could to convince employers etc that they should care about the specific tools used by the people they pay.

          IOW, I think you're blithely underestimating the economic incentives those who profit from the status quo would bring to bear.

  15. Avatar

    martinusv2

    I build my own desktop. So I'm happy with the recent announcement AMD did at Computex. But I must say, I am looking at the gaming laptops lately from Lenovo and others. I may be tempted for next generation to switch for one.

  16. Avatar

    Bats

    Does Thurrott realize that the same can be said for a Mac, Chrome OS, and even Android? 


    LOL. Is this supposed to be a "feel good" piece of an article, because the news day is pretty slow?


    Purpose Driven? A PC is needed for daily productivity work? LOL...I think Thurrott forgot his run-in with Harry Mcckraken. Ever hear of an MLB pitcher named David Cone? He just wrote a book in collaboration with Sports Journalist Jack Curry, all on Google Docs. If I am not mistaken, didn't Paul Thurrott mention numerous times before that he writes his blog posts on an app NOT Microsoft Word?


    Soooooo....we are measuring the popularity of technologies based on convention count and announcements per? Are you serious? You don't have to be a tech follower to know that the absolute best time to make announcements is at ONE'S OWN venue. 


    As for Acer,....LOL....new premium PCs for creative professionals? LOL...so what? Plus, it's success is easy to predict. Let's put it this way, between PCs and Macs, the people creating video, audio, and images are going to pick the Mac. That's because the Mac offers a complete ecosystem of software and reliability that all creative users are expecting. For Acer to succeed, they can't do "premium", but low cost PCs.


    As for Lenovo, their rise in PC sales means that someone is not buying HP, Dell, or Acer. PLUS....PC sales Are, Always Have Been, and Always Will Be cyclical. LOL...this reminds me a few years ago (I think it was 2014) when Thurrott declared that the decline of the PC was over, just because sales moved up a bit. 


    Ya know what I find strange is......LOL.....who said the PC is going on a freefall? The PC has been declining, but who said it was freefalling? Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't the term "free fall" denote a rapid...RAPID...downward movement? LOL...based on what Thurrott stated, when did this happen? 


    It's posts like this, that makes me go "huh?" that make me not trust Paul Thurrott. For those reading this, it's up to you whether you want to or not.

    • Avatar

      Pbike908

      In reply to Bats:


      I can't speak for Mac OS, as I haven't used it much recently. However, I have used both Chrome OS and Android extensively of late (including today) and I can say that Windows 10 Laptops have little to fear as Windows 10 serves a much needed niche that neither Chrome OS nor Android can fill. Not even close...


      I am not saying folks can't get by without Windows 10. I am saying that anyone that has used personal computing devices for years can make the claim that Android or Chrome OS are close to duplicating ALL features, functions, and applications that one can do with Windows 10.

  17. Avatar

    jchampeau

    Totally agree. When I was much younger, I lusted after but could not afford the expensive Mac laptops with their sleek silver aluminum goodness and backlit Apple logos. Now, in my early 40s, I can afford a Mac but choose PCs because Apple no longer makes anything lust-worthy. Instead, it's HP with their leather and wood finishes or Dell with the 7400 2-in-1 that has proximity sensor and Windows Hello to both awaken the PC when you sit down in front of it and log you in. Plus there's built-in LTE that isn't available in Apple laptops, no touch, no 2-in-1 designs, bad keyboards, poor port selection, blah blah blah.


    I haven't really really wanted a particular PC in a long time. But damn, that HP wood finish in the hero image....

  18. Avatar

    Pbike908

    I am most interested to see what Qualcomm comes up with. I am a bit saddened that we likely won't find out until 2020 as per Brad's article yesterday. All i really use a PC for these days is to manage Spotify playlists, stream Netflix or Amazon Prime occasionally, surf the web, email (Microsoft's Win 10 is fine for me, and I love Microsoft's news and Sports app. I really don't use Win 32 apps much, so a long battery life would appeal to me more.


  19. Avatar

    dcdevito

    I can’t help but look to what Apple will be doing with iOS and macOS and wonder what computing will look like in 5-7 years. If Apple can pull it off then it’s going to be tough to beat a platform that consists of traditional and modern mobile devices.

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