Computer Sales Decline: Causes and the Data Center Connection
Sales numbers tell the story: people are not buying computers as often as they used to. This sales situation doesn’t spell doomsday for the computer industry, but reflects how people and businesses use computer technology today. Just a decade ago desktop and laptop computers were the only two viable work and leisure device classes. These devices did most of the work locally. Today’s devices are more often serving a communicative role instead of a productivity role by offloading work to data center servers.
The Sales Situation
First quarter PC shipments declined 11.5% in 2016 over 2015. According to Gartner, the global PC market sold 289 million systems in 2015 and is expected to move only 284 million devices in 2016. Has the Mac platform finally dominating Windows? Nope: Apple saw a 12% decrease in Mac sales over the same time period. Tablet sales are flat and expected to stay that way.
However, it’s not all bad news in the technology industry: smartphones are experiencing 1-2% annual growth. The sales numbers indicate that the devices have successfully saturated the market, but customers are no longer looking to replace devices at the same frequency they did in the past.
Handing off the Heavy Lifting
The rise of web applications means that the end-user’s system needs less power. Data centers do more work now thanks to web applications. So user devices no longer need to be cutting-edge powerhouses, but rather offer sufficient power to run an interface. Offloading the heavy processing work to a data center means the computer only needs to be powerful enough run the web browser or desktop application interface. Therefore, older and less powerful computers are able to do the job for longer before needing to be replaced. Data center expenses reflect this transition: the data center construction market is expected to grow from $14.6 billion in 2014 to $22.7 billion in 2019.
Hardware Lasts Longer
People are holding on to their devices longer before upgrading or replacing them. What use to be a three-year replacement cycle for computers now extends to a five-year or longer schedule. The necessary level of hardware required to run modern applications has not increased as quickly as hardware capabilities, so older systems handle newer software better than ever.
For example, hardware requirements for things like operating systems are no longer increasing at dramatic rates. Windows 8 required only marginally more powerful hardware to run than Windows Vista. This means people no longer need to buy new hardware to upgrade to the latest operating system. Additionally, hardware reliability has improved so fewer machines get replaced because they broke. Apple credits its own success with computer longevity as a cause of its sales decline.
Web applications run through data centers are making people less reliant on powerful computer hardware, thus changing where money moves in the tech industry as a whole. Getting rid of the need to upgrade the computer to run software gets rid of what used to drive computer sales, so people aren’t buying replacement devices as often as before.
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