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Laptops Are Drowning in a Sea of Smartphones

On Monday, Barack Obama’s second inauguration marked the start of the second term for our country’s 44th President as well as proof (on a national scale) that we have officially entered the post-PC era.

Chances are you’ve seen this picture floating around the internet:

A Sea of Smartphones

What’s the first thing you notice? Maybe it’s the POTUS and FLOTUS partaking in their traditional first dance. More likely, it’s the sea of screens that dominates the lower two-thirds of the image.

Phones are more powerful than ever before. Along with tablets, they are killing the laptop and desktop market. This was crystal clear at CES 2013, where North Hall was flooded with all things iPhone, yet you could count on one hand the number of companies showing off a laptop. The complete and utter lack of laptops was so jarring that Gizmodo’s “Best of CES” article for laptops was titled, “What laptops?”

Further marking the end of an era, Intel announced earlier this week that within three years, it is ceasing production of desktop motherboards. Tablets… what have you done?!

Rest in Peace, Computers

Smartphones and tablets are not only killing off the PC, but big retail chains like Best Buy as well. When you walk down one of Amazon’s physical showrooms… sorry, I mean Best Buys… you see aisle after aisle of technology that we pack into our pockets on a daily basis. GPS… check. Digital cameras… check. E-readers… check. The list goes on.

If you happened to walk into a Best Buy store a mere two years ago, it would be hard to be sold on the idea of a tablet, or the idea that they would kill the laptop. Of the few lining the shelves, none were cheaper than $499 and the only model with any brand recognition was, of course, Apple’s iPad.

Cheaper, Cheaper, Cheaper

But here we are, at the start of 2013, not only with multiple tablet options under $200, but with multiple good tablet options at that price point. Amazon’s Kindle Fire is as cheap as $169. Google’s Nexus 7 is $199. Even Apple, King of the post-PC market, entered the cheaper tablet market in 2012 with the iPad Mini and its $329 price point.

So where does all of this leave laptops? Before we get to the really bad news, it’s important to note that some tablets can actually help boost laptop sales.

Savior in a Seven-Inch Form Factor

It’s estimated that tablets can do 80 percent of what a laptop can do, with the only exceptions being typing intensive or processor intensive processes. While accessories like Bluetooth keyboards further blur the line between laptop and full-sized tablets, the expansion and popularity of 7” tablets with fewer capabilities means that more and more people are still going to need a workhorse around to get lots their real work done. 7” tablets can be an effective e-reader, email checker, internet and gaming machine, but it’s not truly a work unit. If your only tablet is a Nexus 7, chances are you’re going to have a laptop around, too. Of course, that’s today. It will not be true for long.

But Then, There’s Bad News

In December, technology research firm IDC published a study that said laptops growth would rise 31 percent in the next four years, while tablet sales would grow by 131 percent in the same period. Even if the laptop growth number is right – which no other numbers I’ve found seem to suggest is true – the tablet growth is more than four times that of the laptop. That’s not just a defeat – that’s a massacre.

Things are so bad for the laptop right now that laptop shipments declined for the first time since the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. Things aren’t about to improve, either. Experts predict that tablets will start outselling laptops by 2016.

What Kind of Numbers Are We Talking About?

In September 2012, Apple sold its 100 millionth iPad. By 2014, we’re going to be buying more than 200 million tablets annually. We’re still buying 300 million laptops and desktops per year, but that growth has stalled. While IDC seems more optimistic about the four-year growth of laptops, the firm also projected that laptop growth would only increase by 1% in 2013.

But let’s not forget about smartphones. Earlier this week, Apple released its quarterly sales numbers, which show that the company sold 47.8 million iPhones last quarter, en route to the second most profitable quarter in tech history.

The iPhone’s biggest competitor is the Samsung Galaxy, the fourth installment of which is projected to hit store shelves on April 22 and, Samsung hopes, will sell 10 million units per month.

Who Will Fight For the Laptop?

Traditionally, talking about computers means talking about two companies: Apple and Microsoft. It’s clear that Apple’s moneymakers are its iDevices. But even Microsoft isn’t paying as much attention to laptops as it once was. Windows 8 and the Surface seem to be its main focus.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that its fully-powered Windows 8 Surface Pro will be available on February 9. For just over $1,000, you can get the 64 gig model along with the optional – but vital – keyboard accessory. While it’s true that the price makes the device comparable to Ultrabooks, its form factor can’t be beat. The full power of Windows 8 (with no application restrictions) in a 10” tablet size? Good luck, laptop manufacturers.

Change We Can Believe In

President Obama entered his second term wading through a sea of smartphones and tablets… poor laptops… we hardly knew ya!

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More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of NBC Universal’s Live Digital with Shelly Palmer, a weekly half-hour television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.