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Denying Death: The desktop digs in

Denying Death: The desktop digs in

Despite the notebook’s surge in popularity, the stalwart desktop remains strong with solid sales and innovative iterations. TREVOR CLARKE reports.

Despite the notebook’s surge in popularity, the stalwart desktop remains strong with solid sales and innovative iterations. TREVOR CLARKE reports.


Never mind the notebooks. We know they began to outsell the desktop for the first time in 2008, and the netbook is arguably one of the hottest products on the market. But that doesn’t mean the stalwart of the industry is ready to give up the ghost. In fact, the desktop is still going strong and in demand.

In the most recent financial quarter, PC shipments worldwide, including desktop and notebook PCs, totalled 63.4 million. That was down 7.1 per cent from the first quarter last year, but better than IDC’s forecast of an 8.2 per cent decline. The desktop makes up roughly half of this total.

If you raise the idea of the death of the desktop – a common (mis)perception in the market – you’ll more than likely find vehement rejections shot your way. Yes, most of these people have a vested interest – desktop vendors being most prominent – but their points contain more than a grain of truth.

The desktop, while humble and a little old-school, is far from its final resting place.

The response

“Most certainly desktops are not dead. We’re seeing some pretty strong results in certain areas of the market,” Dell desktop marketing manager, Heber Delaney, said. “There is definitely a strong market out there for desktops – it hasn’t dropped off to the extent that you may read about in some of the press. There is a variety of different types of users out there that, for one reason or another, need to have a desktop on their employees’ desk, or students’ desk rather than a notebook.”

Some market segments commonly experiencing sustained desktop sales include call centres, banks and organisations where they have a lot of admintype staff like the public service, education and local government.

“If you look at the purchases of PCs this year alone, there are well over 1 million,” HP market development manager commercial desktops, Craig Hardman, said. “I think it answers the question – the desktop isn’t dead. I still see a strong and steady demand for the PC as it is today.

“One of the key things to look at is the technology developments that have transformed the PC; there has been a real resurgence in the product. In some areas notebooks are growing, but the desktop is definitely making a resurgence.”

The reasoning

In the more mature Asia-Pacific markets such as Australia, Singapore and Japan, notebooks have already gone past the 50 per cent market saturation point while the desktop continues to be marginalised into a corner. Yet, demand is still there. Why?

Gartner principal analyst, Lillian Tay, pointed to improvements in the design and smaller form factor. No longer is the desktop an ugly beige box sitting on your desk or cramping a sly leg stretch. Now, they are even getting to the point where you could describe them as sexy. Well, maybe.

“That helps a lot to actually break the perception that desktops are clunky and take up too much space,” Tan said. “The perception is one of the reasons why people went to mobility and desktop replacements. It was the number one initial reason why people went to buy a notebook. They wanted to take it out and bring it around when they were on the road. I think making the desktop smaller and sexier helps, and actually, for the cost per computing, desktops give you the best value for money. The perception is people need to understand the value of the desktop.”

Whether business leaders like to admit it or not, there are other more practical factors desktops remain in demand. The most prominent of these is arguably the idea of fit-for-purpose.

If a company is made up predominantly by task workers that are going to be sitting in front of a PC from 9am-5pm, do you need to give them a mobile capability?

For call centres, as an example, there is no point in a company paying about 25 per cent extra to get a mobile device for the workforce.

For businesses, the security and cost issues, along with the problem of manageability of wear and tear, associated with notebooks mean desktops will remain a winner. Notebooks, it seems, are for people that really need them, for those on the road or those that are slaves to their work and do the 24/7 thing.

“I really wish I had a dollar for every time somebody proclaimed the death of the desktop. It hasn’t happened yet and we still see that there is a lot of opportunity in that space,” Lenovo desktop business manager, Otto Ruettinger, said.

“I think the case for mobility in the consumer space is pretty clear. It offers freedom of movement so if you want to browse the Internet you can do so while sitting on the couch, out on the deck or wherever you like. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for that because they value the experience.

“Whereas I think when it comes to business, they still demand a cost-effective, robust, secure and manageable PC. There will continue to be a premium [for notebooks] that businesses will look at and ask if it makes economic sense.

“If you look at what the forecast is in the commercial part of the market for Australia and New Zealand, then desktops will still be the majority of purchases up until, at least, the first quarter of next year.”

For some, the reason comes down to the simple fact that in most organisations desktops are far easier to manage than a fleet of notebooks.

“There can be some limits around lower power consumption but for a lot of organisations it is a lot easier to understand desktops,” NEC marketing programs manager and line of business manager, Steve Woff, said. “There is less variation in the hardware so it is easier to image the devices. There seems to be a lot more security around a desktop device – it is much easier to bolt to a table or to keep there.”

Woff said the raw power of a desktop device over notebooks was another key factor in the decision-making process.

“If I was doing desktop publishing or something with high-graphic demands, it makes a lot more sense for me to go and buy a desktop over a laptop device,” he said. “For a lot of organisations, just having a desktop there is a benefit and the reason why they want to move forward with it.”


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