Thanks to MSPowerUser.com I stumbled upon a very interesting UK survey this morning. Its title tells much of the story: “Survey finds Laptops, Tablets steady while Desktop PC ownership plunges.” There’s an even better picture of what’s reported. I reproduce it from page 6 of the stunning interactive report around which the story is based. Basically it shows that in the period from 2008 to 2018, tablets and laptops increasingly represent the computing platform of choice for end-users. As the same time use of (desktop) PCs for computing has declined by more than half. If I read the chart correctly, only 30% of users now turn to PCs for computing. But just over 60% use laptops for that purpose, and just under 60% of users turn to tablets likewise. That’s why I say Tablets and Laptops Supplant Desktop PCs.
Note that tablets and laptops are up, while desktops are down, reflecting a sea change in computing device use patterns and preferences.
Tablets and Laptops Supplant Desktop PCs for Good Reasons
Ofcom is the UK government’s regulatory agency for communications services, including broadband, home and mobile phone services, TV and radio, postal services, and even wireless devices such as walkie talkies, wireless auto keyfobs and even wireless doorbells (often, with surveillance cameras embedded). As far as I can tell, it serves the same role in the UK that the FCC does in the USA, plus a lot more. The organization’s role includes an educational mandate for users, and to handle and respond to customer complaints. Thus, their report is very much media and communications focused, it doesn’t really delve much into computing practices and behaviors, except to observe and quantify Internet and smart phone use. That said, I think I understand what’s driving a long-term shift from desktop PCs to tablet and laptop alternatives:
- Price: laptops and tablets are often cheaper, sometimes much cheaper, than desktop PCs. With many families desiring device-per-member usage this makes more sense for many of them.
- Mobility: For most desktop PCs, the user has to go to the machine and work in front of it. More mobile devices go to (or with) their users and fit better into typical multi-device modern media consumption habits. (My 14-year-old son, for example, seldom watches TV without also interacting with his iPhone.)
- Apps not Applications: Most users want the same capability on their computing devices that they get from their smartphones. Mobile computing devices do a better job of supporting that kind of experience. Although its popular, fewer users want Office on their smartphone than want their iPhone or Android apps on their computers.
The whole Ofcom report is well worth reading. Besides the amazing interactive charts they’ve put together, the narrative that accompanies the charts is also worth reading (PDF format). Be sure to check it out!
I am NOT a Dinosaur!
I have a cheerful confession to share. Indeed, the foregoing survey shows clearly declining use of desktops. We own 5 laptops (2 of which are hybrid tablets), 2 full-time tablets (both iPads), 4 smartphones, and 3 desktops here at Chez Tittel. When I have work to do, though, I will always turn to my production PC by choice. That’s because it has two good (and big) monitors. Let me explain.
A lot of what I do requires reading and checking stuff in one or more “input windows” while writing something related in at least one “output window.” That’s still not something I can do well on the road on a laptop just yet (though it’s fun to try). My needs are pretty special, though, and I do consider myself primarily a writer/researcher. Thus my desktop PC is my primary work instrument. When I’m working that’s what I use. As I think of how my family uses PCs, and how I use them when I’m not working, I’m inclined to agree wholesale with the findings of the Ofcom survey myself. I just wanted to observe that special circumstances, like mine, explain why the usage rate is still at 30% for 2018, and likely to stay that way for some time to come.