To PC or Not to PC?

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Enterprise Desktop Landscape Getting More Diverse

Five key findings from a recent Unisys survey.

It’s emerging as one of the central dilemmas in enterprise capital budget preparations this year: Should funding be shifted toward new mobile access or should it stick with the tried-and-true PC?

Last week I spelled out my point of view that PCs will certainly endure in the enterprise, although they will need to specialize in top-end application processing rather than run-of-the-mill data and communications. That’s fine for the future, but what is a CIO to do today, particularly when it seems as though the mobile side of the equation is gaining momentum?

That may seem odd, given Intel’s recent 25 percent first quarter sales gain. The company says the jump was driven largely by a 17 percent increase in PC silicon, a sector that is expected to show strong results with the release of the new Sandy Bridge architecture. Clearly, then, PC makers are eager to push new desktops out the door.

Or are they? At the same time, HP, Dell and others are warning of declining sales, and Gartner reports worldwide results slid 1.1 percent in the first quarter. A recent survey by YouGov, meanwhile, showed that nearly 8 percent of individuals bought a tablet instead of a PC this year. And Acer has even gone as far as splitting itself in two, with one side focused on mobile architectures and the other handling PCs. The company had a difficult two quarters and has lowered its sales forecast 10 percent, blaming the drop on the “tablet effect.”

PC pessimists, then, point to any positive news in the sector as the final gasp of improved balance sheets following the latest recession. Future budgets will shift heavily in mobile’s favor.

But this view isn’t necessarily correct either. As PCMag‘s John C. Dvorak points out, tablets and PCs are not interchangeable. They are different devices that serve different functions, and any loss in PC volume is due strictly to poor marketing and salesmanship. Vendors should quit their whining and get back to what they are paid to do: make and sell computers.

And that leads me back to my original point: Mobile’s gains do not need to come from PC’s losses. If we’ve seen anything in technology over the past 40 years, the new rarely eliminates the old. Instead, they find a way to complement each other to the benefit of everyone. (OK, VHS beat Beta, but Beta sucked).

So if I were laying out a capital budget for next year, I’d earmark a fair amount for mobile devices, but I wouldn’t slam the door on PCs just yet.

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