Issue of the week: The triumphant return of the PC
“Remember the death of the PC?” asked Will Oremus in Slate.com. Pundits have been writing obituaries for the personal computer for years now, but Apple and Microsoft just showed that the consumer tech workhorse is still alive and kicking. Souped-up PCs wowed reviewers at dueling product launches held by the companies last week. Microsoft showed off the Surface Studio, a “massive, gorgeous, $3,000 desktop PC” with a touch-enabled screen that artists and designers can lay flat like a drafting table. Apple’s new MacBook Pro, meanwhile, replaces the top row of keys with a touch screen that displays handy shortcuts for whatever app is being used. The launches prove that the Microsoft-Apple rivalry is also “alive and well,” said Hayley Tsukayama in The Washington Post. A few years ago, Microsoft’s consumer products felt like an afterthought; the company notably missed out on the mobile revolution with its failed Windows Phone. But if the initial reactions to the Surface Studio are any indication, Microsoft may be beating Apple at its own design game. Who knew tech enthusiasts in 2016 would be drooling over a desktop?
“It’s like we’re in some kind of weird time warp,” said Bob O’Donnell in Recode.net. Thirty-five years after the first PC came to market, we are witnessing something “more like a PC renaissance than a PC extinction.” The tablet market, which has never approached the size of the PC market, has been shrinking for three years now; sales of smartwatches are also tanking. Meanwhile, even though global PC sales have been declining since their peak in 2011, “U.S. PC shipments have actually turned around recently, and are now on a modestly increasing growth curve.” Still, PCs will never generate the same kind of excitement they once did, said Walt Mossberg in TheVerge.com. That’s because the PC “has become the furniture of our digital lives.” You don’t want to go without one, but you don’t need to replace it every year and you “don’t expect revolutionary new features when you do.”
Apple and Microsoft are nevertheless smart to boot up their PC efforts, said Dan Gallagher in The Wall Street Journal. With nearly 200 million desktops sold globally this year, “a market still exists that tech companies can ill afford to ignore.” The Mac alone pulls in nearly $23 billion in annual revenue for Apple—a tally that would make it 123rd on the Fortune 500 if it were a stand-alone business. Sales of Microsoft’s line of Surface devices are up nearly a third over last year. Apple and Microsoft’s latest designs reflect the fact that “desktops and laptops are increasingly becoming more useful as professional tools than consumer gadgets,” said Lisa Eadicicco in Time.com. “We used to use our home computers for everything from checking email to surfing the web to listening to music.” Now most people have moved on to smartphones and tablets for those activities. That partly explains why these new machines are so expensive (the new MacBook Pro starts at $1,799). “Those price tags are tough for an everyday user to justify, but professionals might see the machines as an investment if they’re making money by using them.”