The rapid rise of cloud computing, coupled with a slew of increasingly powerful mobile computing devices, is killing the PC faster than analysts had predicted.
In fact, some now say, the desktop PC is essentially dead – an immobile zombie that's already irrelevant to many consumers and soon will be to businesses, too.
Yesterday's announcement of Apple's iCloud, which will store content online and synch all of a user's Apple devices wirelessly, is the latest in a series of nails being hammered into the PC coffin. Smart phones and tablets have given rise to a new consumer demand for immediate information at our fingertips, which John Quain, industry expert and longtime technology writer, said has made the desktop computer defunct.
"We don’t need PCs anymore," Quain told BusinessNewsDaily. "They are dead."
PC sales slide
The two-stage death march is evident in surprisingly dim statistics released recently.
Two of the world's largest manufactures of personal computers, HP and Dell, recently reported significant losses in sales to consumers. PC sales to individuals for quarter ending April 30 plunged 23 percent at HP and 7 percent at Dell.
PC sales to businesses have fared better. But overall, a turning point has clearly passed.
This spring, Gartner, Inc. released statistics showing PC sales overall dropped 1.1 percent compared to last year. Meanwhile, IMS Research has forecasted a whopping 213 percent growth for tablets.
While the PC has long been considered a necessity in the workplace, Quain said mobile devices are now giving businesses the chance to break from that mold.
"I see a lot of large enterprises and small businesses reconsidering the need for a desktop computer," Quain said. "The tablet computers are much cheaper, and give small and medium-size business another option so they don’t have to invest in a desktop computer."
Meanwhile laptops, considered to be PC's, are changing rapidly. Apple's Mac Air has the instant-on capability of a tablet computer, and isn't much bigger than one. Intel recently announced Ultrabook, a thin, light tablet-like laptop with a touch screen. The company thinks it'll make up half the laptop market by the end of next year.
And earlier this year, Motorola released the Atrix 4G, a smartphone that docks to a laptop-like device that's really just a screen, keyboard and giant battery. The smartphone is the brains of the operation.
Gone from campuses
Nowhere is the PC demise more stark than among the consumers of tomorrow.
At Penn State University, Director of Education Technology Services Allan Gyorke said the former student staple is now rarely spotted in dorm rooms.
"The desktop PC is dead," Gyorke said, estimating that 95 percent of students now bring a laptop or tablet media device to campus instead of using a traditional PC in their dorm room.
Those newer devices, he said, are easier to store and easier to set up.
While not ready to put the final nail in the PC's coffin, Roger Kay, an industry expert and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, said the growing use of media tablets and smartphones is indeed pushing it out the door.
"Death might be an over-exaggeration, but the wind has been taken out of the PC’s sails," Kay said. "There is a lot of momentum going the other way."
With tablets and smartphones having as many computer capabilities as a desktop PC, Kay said it's only naturally for people to choose the handier option.
"It is hugely more convenient," Kay said. "It immediately changed my lifestyle, in that it offered a type of mobile computing that wasn’t available before."
The wireless connection
The explosion of wireless networks is also linked to the PC's demise. You no longer need to be seated at a desktop computer that is plugged into the phone line next to it to access the Internet, Gyorke noted.
"If there is a wireless connection somewhere, people want to access it," Gyorke said. "That is a real drawing force."
Apple's new iCloud will help seal the desktop's fate by spurring the use of all cloud-based services, Quain said. "It is going to make everyone feel more confident in using those cloud services."
Other analysts point out that the iCloud is mostly an Apple affair, but that Google, Microsoft and others who want a foothold in the cloud are already racing in that direction, and iCloud will only heat that race up.
Evolve or die
Still, even as he acknowledged that PC alternatives like the iPad and other media tablets are slowing personal computer sales, George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, Inc., said he expects the PC to survive by evolving into something else.
"PCs are a very flexible platform," Shiffler said. “There will be something like a PC (in the future), but it won't be exactly what it is like today.”
One scenario, he suggested, is to have a further merge of the television and computer.
"I think we may see the desktop move to an all-in-one screen," Shiffler said. "Then it becomes a media center."
Gyorke said he actually sees the future of personal computers headed in the same direction as tablets, with touch screens and app centers.
"The interface will be very similar to the iPad," Gyorke said.