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May 28th, 2013

If you don’t read the quarterly financials of the technology sector, join the club. Most people couldn’t care less. On the other hand, if you work for one of the many companies that completely missed “emerging technologies” and devotedtablets/iPads take PC market share themselves to PCs instead of smartphones and tablets, you might care when your job evaporates. And PC and tablet makers most assuredly do care about those quarterly reports, and they’re looking at the latest one from IDC (International Data Corporation, a market research, analysis, and advisory firm specializing in IT) that tallies 49.2 million tablets shipped in Q1 2013 (up 142.4% year-over-year), compared to 76.3 million PCs (down 13.9% y/y). Tablet sales are soaring, while PC sales are tanking, with the worst quarterly drop ever.

Tablets are fast approaching the point where they can do everything a typical PC can, while also being pressed into nearly continuous service as cameras, movie players, videophones, game arcades, and remote controls for household appliances. Even today’s low-end tablets can handle most jobs, even in corporate settings (where you could order a MacBook Pro rental if you want more power for a temporary project). This is the primary challenge facing PC manufacturers today: How can the desktop PC compete with lower-priced, portable devices that use less power, accomplish many common computing tasks, and also have that “hip-and-fun” factor?

Who’s who in the new crew

IDC shows Apple still leading in market share with 39.6% of tablet sales, with Samsung in (distant) second place with 17.9%. But the bigger story here is the number of leading firms that are not on the list. Think a minute: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba are all missing from the top spots, despite some of them making belated attempts at entering the fray. Dell and HP are hugely important, influential firms in the history of PCs, and a desktop computer rental is likely to be one of these premier brands. So how did they miss out on the biggest product debut since, well, the PC?

Short answer: Who knows? Perhaps some of the long-time computer makers…

  • didn’t see or understand the trend away from the desktop and toward portability,
  • came “late to the game” and can’t seem to catch up,
  • were indecisive and wouldn’t make a commitment, or
  • decided against the tablet market in favor of their “sure things.”

Interestingly, many of the same companies that missed out on tablets this time around missed out on smartphones last time around. Of course, smartphones currently outsell PCs by a huge margin, and there is a growing trend (think Galaxy Note) toward the phone/tablet combo (sorry, they’re going to be called “phablets” no matter what). Either set a trend or get on someone’s coattails, but if you miss out again—we’re talking to you, Michael Dell—your brand may be ready for retirement.

Whither the “withering Windows”?

At GigaOm.com, Kevin C. Tofel analyzed the 2012 tablet and PC sales results back in January, dubbing Microsoft’s flagship OS “withering Windows.” The point was that, despite the hundreds of millions of Windows users on Earth, a full third of all new devices sold don’t run Windows—they run Android and iOS. In the ‘90s and 2000s, if you were to rent laptops you’d find over 90% of them running Windows. The bar’s been lowered to under 70% of all devices now, and Tofel sees “no reason why the growth of non-Windows tablets will stop.” In fact, he “wouldn’t be surprised if by this time next year non-Windows tablets actually outsell Windows computers.”

In the last 30 years Microsoft’s presence in the technology sector of the economy has been dominant. It’s not merely its market share in tablets that signals a problem for the firm, it’s the burden of a legacy OS that has been pushed aside by flexible (and fun) new platforms. Combining a small form factor, touch capability, media prowess, WiFi, and long battery life, devices like iPad rentals, tablet PCs, and the latest/greatest thing, phablets, will experience strong sales as PC shipments continue tanking. You could argue that it’s all a semantic “construct,” that you can “define” things in and out of categories, compare apples and oranges, even ‘prove’ that 0=1. It’s all marketing, right?

What’s in a name?

Wrong. There really has been a irreversible change. Tablets have done so well because they are convenient and cover most of the bases for most folks. There are growing numbers of people, in fact, who are not replacing their PCs as often as they once did. They keep one around because PCs do excel at certain things—writing everything from letters to novels, editing digital audio and video, rendering graphics, and acting as both analog and digital hub for connecting and interconnecting this, that, and the proverbial other thing.

This is why PCs—let’s call them desktop workstations, shall we?—are not going away completely. It’s a needed form factor: A top-flight HP Pavilion or Apple Mac Pro rental has the expansion slots, drive bays, flexibility, and power needed for demanding work. Creative pros, scientists, photographers, designers, writers, engineers, and others will populate the “high-end” niche, which CRE will continue to serve with everything from audio visual (AV) equipment rentals to the mass storage needed for post-production. Wherever you find your challenges—on-site, on the road, or at a convention—your solutions are all right here. Call an experienced Account Executive at (877) 266-7725, send us a message, or visit our Quick Rental Quote page if you know what you need. We are always ready to help you!

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