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PCs aren't dead, they're microwaves

Brad Chacos | April 18, 2013
Pundits shout that PCs are dead, but the truth is much more mundane: Computers have become commodity appliances.

Making matters worse for manufacturers (but better for consumers), modern-day PC hardware lasts forever if you keep it free of those dreaded dust bunnies. If your current hardware works just dandy and a new one won't give you much extra oomph, what's the point in upgrading early?

The same thinking applies to refrigerators and stoves. There's a reason people don't swap out their appliances annually.


Manufacturers aren't exactly helping their own cause, either.

The race toward ever-lower prices has resulted in the mass production of ho-hum, cookie-cutter, commodity computers. Is it any surprise that shoppers treat these black holes of non-brilliance as appliances? The PC landscape has been devoid of any real hardware innovation for as long as memory serves--especially at the affordable end of the spectrum, where the vast majority of sales occur. The towers and clamshells of today bear a striking resemblance to the computers of a decade ago. They're just a bit thinner and occasionally clad in MacBook-mimicking aluminum.

Design "evolution" has thus far consisted of nice little bonuses--proverbial ice makers in proverbial fridges--rather than must-have features that change the game and make you want to upgrade right now.


Despite all the talk about smartphones and tablets creating a post-PC world, the reality is probably closer to the "PC-plus" line touted by computer-industry stalwarts. It's a subtle distinction, but a crucial one. Tablets will never be able to replace PCs completely, considering computers' full-size keyboards, full-size screens, and beefy internals. But tablets don't have to--mobility's mere presence shakes the computing world to its quad-cores.

Let's face it: A lot of people don't need big keyboards and big screens for many consumptive tasks. "Well enough" rears its head once again. In many cases a tablet offers many of the benefits of a laptop, but at a fraction of a laptop's size--and more important, a fraction of a laptop's price. You also have to consider usability. From an interface-smoothness standpoint, a tablet priced from $200 to $500 blows the pants off of a similarly priced notebook.

Tablets are still new and exciting, unlike fuddy-duddy notebooks with one foot stuck in the '90s.

Tablets no doubt pilfer some sales from what was once the realm of the laptop, but perhaps more crucially, their arrival likely elongates people's overall replacement cycles for their PCs. In the old days, if your PC--sedentary and monolithic, like so many other appliances--was your only computing device, you'd replace it if it slowed to a crawl. If you have a tablet, on the other hand, squeezing just ... one ... more ... year out of your clunky PC is a lot easier when you can email and FaceTwit and stream Netflix on your silky-smooth mobile device. (Why rush to replace an electric stove with a dead burner when most of your meals are microwaveable, anyway? Times are tough!)


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