Analysis: The Desktop Dilemma - PC Retail

Analysis: The Desktop Dilemma

Traditional PC sales are declining – but does that mean you should move away from that market, or fight to make the most of it?
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Tablets and ultrathin laptops are the future, according to a million and one reports from the world’s top analysts (IDC, Strategy Analytic, GfK, BRC – the list goes on).

So is it time to chuck out your hard drives and your towers? Time to write off the desktop market forever? Absolutely not.

The market is changing, but that doesn’t mean it’s game over. Retailers and resellers alike simply have to ensure they’re targeting the right audience and that they have the right product mix.

Desktops might not be here in ten years – Google probably thinks we’ll all be wearing its glasses by then and typing in thin air – but they’re currently one of the best options for productivity and gaming, meaning there are still plenty of sales to be made.

IN DEMAND

Certainly manufacturers are still seeing a demand for desktops and related products. Sarah Shields, executive director and general manager, Dell UK, comments: “The desktop market is far from dead. At Dell, we’re seeing continued interest from consumers for desktops in the UK.”

Meanwhile Adam Kozak, desktop product marketing manager, AMD, says: “Desktop PCs still have many real benefits such as being able to maximise performance and screen sizes. They are also more easily expandable and create a lower cost of ownership during their lifetime compared to notebook PCs.”

Sales overall might be down for this segment, but retailers still believe there’s an opportunity too. Marco Della Vedova, DinoPC.com, says: “We sell mostly desktop computers, so, hopefully, we’ll be in the market for some time to come. Our customers range from gaming enthusiasts who want just the highest performing components in their machines, to family members who are on a budget and only really need a basic computer to browse the web and carry out simple office tasks.”

Westcoast’s Alex Tatham makes the point that once the mass-market has bought its fill of tablets, the situation could change. “This year, if you have £500 burning a hole in your pockets, you may choose a tablet because you don’t have such a device and your desktop isn’t broken. Next year, you are likely to reverse that trend.”

BUSINESS & EDUCATION

The business market is clearly a key sector for desktops. Mobile products are soaring in popularity – all hail BYOD – but those often include users’ own smart devices. Businesses still have a budget to consider and desktops are usually the cheapest option.

Richard Marsden, sales director for distributor VIP Computers, comments: “Laptops are expensive in comparison to desktops to roll out and they present a security and loss risk – you can control a desktop on the network and there is little chance of losing it.”

Tatham says there are many drivers that will enhance sales of a desktop. “I hear the constant stories about PC sales declining, but it does not mean that this format is dead. All-in-ones are an excellent and generally good-looking space-saving format used in schools and industry and often by consumers replacing their previous desktop.

“There are a huge amount of XP devices still being used – why not, they work beautifully – but with XP going end of life in April next year, people will be replacing these devices, and these are likely to be a like-for-like replacement.

“Meanwhile schools will still refresh their estate regularly to ensure they are training children on the latest technology.”

GAMES

Gamers are the secret cash cow of the PC industry. Every new game puts higher demands on a system – thus every new title encourages gamers to think about upgrading or renewing their computer.

Dell’s Shields says: “One of the biggest areas of demand are for higher end, power intensive desktops capable of content creation and extreme gaming. Our Alienware desktops are performing exceptionally well as they deliver the graphics and processing power gamers are looking for.”

Dino PC’s Della Vedova points out why laptops aren’t going to replace a bigger machine any time soon for this key audience. “In the case of gaming rigs, there are issues such as cooling the system and housing bulky components that could not be easily dealt with in smaller enclosures.”

Richard Marsden, VIP, agrees. “For a gamer, the desktop is the platform of choice still.”

FAMILY STORAGE

Families are changing the ways in which they use computers.

Marsden comments: “Those who just need to answer a few emails and browse the web, I can see moving away from desktop and there is no compelling reason for them to come back – tablets will grow in this area as we have seen.”

But computers are still incredibly useful as an education tool, and having at least one quality, reliable computer is a high need for many families.

Consider all the media that an average family produces and uses – family photos and videos. All the movies they watch. It needs top-notch storage (even the biggest Cloud fan usually likes some of their data closer to home for the inevitable internet crash) and, increasingly, streaming and NAS options. The family market still has a lot of life in it.

Dell sees families turning to all-in-ones. Not quite desktops-as-we-know-it (being just as hard as laptops to fix), but they just about fit in the category. Shields notes: “All-in-ones continue to be a sought-after solution – they are space saving, have a streamlined design, and with touchscreen options, offer the optimum way to experience Windows 8.”

UPGRADE YOUR MINDSET

So there are several sub-sectors of the desktop market where there is still demand – businesses, where they’re a practical solution; gaming, where desktops allow users to keep up-to-date; education, where cost is a key factor and families, who might be buying fewer such devices but still need reliable solutions.

Nevertheless, the market is evolving. If upgrades are a big part of your business it’s time to examine how they might change too. Mobile products aren’t as easy to repair as tower PCs, but this isn’t necessarily bad news. It just puts a premium on any expertise in this area.

And in the meantime, for those customers that want as many upgrade options as possible, the humble desktop is still the first port of call.

AMD’s Kozak says: “Typical upgrades for mobile PCs are limited to memory and drives. They’re designed to use specific parts that fit the form factor of the PC and can be more costly. Desktops will remain the standard for those wanting to upgrade.”

Della Vedova agrees: “Upgradability is still a strong point when buying a desktop computer; it’s good to know that one can add or upgrade components as the needs of the user change.”

Mobile might well be the future. But it’s important to remember that ultimately these devices are still computers. Buyers will still have a need to talk to a computer expert, whether for advice, accessories or repairs.

A Microsoft spokesperson tells PCR: “The definition of a PC is expanding beyond the traditional desktops and notebooks. With Windows 8, we have seen innovation in form factors, with new, compelling all-in-ones, ultrabooks, and tablets. Next year there will be hundreds of millions of PCs shipped in those form factors and more. And five years beyond that we’ll see PCs in form factors that don’t exist yet outside of research labs.”

What will you be stocking?

Desktop dilemma image from Shutterstock

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