In 1880, the need to solve the number-crunching crisis of that year’s US census saw the development of large and bulky punch-card-based systems. Fast forward to the 1980s and 1990s; the personal computer had become the predominant replacement for those early mechanical namesakes. Everything, from data processing to app development, was beginning to be carried out on desktop computers. The IBM PC and the Apple Macintosh were the most popular of that era.
As the years passed, advancements in technology brought about the development of what we now refer to as smartphones. Desktop/PC growth decreased as mobile phones represented a more portable way to perform what were previously desktop/PC-only functions. What’s more, between 2007 and 2015, IDC reports that smartphone shipments were over 1.4 billion, that’s more than twice that of desktops.
In 2015, Microsoft released Windows 10 and ended support for Windows XP. This was an effective move as the first quarter of 2015 saw a peak in desktop/PC shipments, with most journalists referring to this period as “the PC boom”. However, this was quickly followed by a decline in the number of sales. In fact, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), by the end of the fourth quarter of 2015, PC shipments recorded the largest decline in history, – over 10%, surpassing the 9.8% of 2013. Gradually, it seemed as though the era of desktops was near an end as the reduction in sales of desktop computers continued through the next few years. However, in 2018, the business market drove a desktop usage resurgence. But it would quickly pale in comparison to what would transpire the following year.
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The growth of desktop in pandemic
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit the world. Everything came to a halt as companies, public gatherings, and much of ordinary life were forced to suspend operations. Remote working and collaboration became the new normal. People began seeking innovations to make staying at home and working from home more efficient, such as video calls, large screens, and higher-end graphics cards.
That said, early into the COVID-19-year, PC sales fell by 12%. This makes sense as manufacturers had to first adapt to changes in their own circumstances forced on them by the pandemic. Not to mention the issue of market uncertainty. People weren’t sure when things would return to normal and this translated into a reluctance to undertake relatively large-expenditure purchases like a desktop/PC.
In time as it became clear that remote working, virtual collaboration, and distanced learning were here to stay, at least, throughout the nearest future, the demand for desktops/PCs skyrocketed. Manufacturers in the meantime had reconfigured to meet with demands, and desktops were becoming predominant again. Desktops are indeed back.
Today, remote working is still an important part of a new way of working brought on by the needs of controlling the spread and mitigating the effects of the pandemic, and so, as a result, are desktops.
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How has desktop growth exploded during the pandemic?
The coronavirus pandemic did not just change the world; it brought about an increase in the number of people working, receiving education, and seeking entertainment from their homes. This, in turn, resulted in a big shift in the desktop/PC growth market. CNBC, citing research by The Gartner Group, reported an increase in the demand for PCs. Specifically, CNBC saw a 32% increase in the first quarter of 2021 when compared to that of 2020.
While smartphone and tablet usage was growing by leaps and bounds, the pandemic came as a reminder that those mobile devices are not really an appropriate replacement for the power and efficiency of a desktop PC. The increase in PC sales and the demand for more sophisticated PC accessories for those looking to build remote working offices at home indicate that people prefer to use the more expansive optimal hardware rather than that of a device where the CPU and screen are focused instead on portability rather than maximum multitasking and suitability to broader business tasks. What’s more, the need for electronics to stay connected around COVID 19 brought about the shipment of over 302 million PCs, according to MarketWatch. This represented the biggest number in the PC industry since 2010.
Because of the pandemic-linked desktop PC surge, Microsoft declared “the PC is back” as they recorded large sales growth of their desktop-focused software and services in this period. At the same time, Microsoft’s plan to release the ‘10X’ Windows OS that was aimed at consumers with dual-screen mobile devices had to be rapidly reconsidered. The expectation is that the plan will now be to launch this OS on single screen devices first although it’s not entirely clear if it will ever see the light of day.
Desktops/PCs were pivotal to companies adapting to stay-at-home mandates imposed by the pandemic, as businesses could quickly go digital to facilitate remote working. Also, the world’s digital transformation process took a turn for the better during the pandemic, and most experts are placing the PC at the heart of this change.
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Is modern PC design behind the increasing growth in desktop usage?
As people change the way they work and use technology due to the pandemic, their PC needs also change. People are now seeking more powerful PCs with bigger screens. What’s most common now is the shift to multiple screen desktops. This is because these types of devices provide users with greater efficiency and room to maximize productivity. According to a MarketWatch study, using your preferred PC setup in your home office increases your productivity by 42%. From the same study, the preferred working setup for remote workers includes a PC/desktop, a big screen monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse for easy interaction with the system.
Modern PC design focuses on delivering high-quality and sustainably cutting-edge performance products. One way the PC industry approaches this is by making PCs easy to upgrade. Unlike modern smartphone devices which are locked down, and in a lot of cases cannot be opened and repaired, PCs generally allow you to add, upgrade, and remove components at will. The freedom that modern PCs provide is a powerful incentive.
Generally, the innovations for modern PC design in conjunction with the remote work boom have undoubtedly facilitated the use of desktops. While it seems like the COVID 19 pandemic might be slowly coming to an end, remote working is still very much in play. In fact, most companies that only went remote because of the pandemic are reaping their benefits and don’t want to stop. Therefore, in the same vein, desktops/PCs are back and here to stay.
App development: desktop vs. mobile
Before the recent desktop boom, mobile computing offered a lucrative new market that was the order of the day due to its mass adoption. In that case, it is expected that developers consider mobile-first when building applications. However, the paradigm has favored desktops once again, and so should application development.
That said, here are other reasons you should consider desktop-first on development and application run time.
As you already know, desktops have better CPUs, GPUs, power supply, number of cores, cooling, media capacity, amongst others. This makes it easier to build an app on the desktop.
Screen size and pixel depth are really important for app development, especially if you have numerous data to display at once. Here, you need a high resolution and larger screen size. While some mobile devices have good screen resolutions, reading the actual values can be very difficult. However, with desktops, you have a large screen size with high resolution.
Sensitivity: fingers vs. mouse
The finger area and pointer area are different. Using fingers can limit your creativity as sensitivity can make it difficult to express yourself fully. However, with the mouse, you can design with maximum creativity and pixel-perfect precision.
What’s more, when it comes to user needs, desktop applications are highly needed in development processes. But mobile applications need to be supported by a database if it needs online data, and database management still requires desktop database applications.
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What is the future of the desktop?
Other recent desktops/PC booms have not lasted as long as this one, and there’ve been a few in the past. In 2015, PC sales skyrocketed in the first quarter. But what followed was a steady decline until a minor resurgence in 2018, which was also followed by a steady decline. However, this present boom may be here to stay as many long-term factors are associated with it.
This desktop boom is partly driven by the growth of the remote work marketplace. And while the pandemic accelerated this marketplace, remote working is also here to stay. Other factors include significant performance improvements in recent CPUs from companies such as AMD and a new version of Windows from Microsoft on the horizon. Although this growth rate is not expected to continue forever, so many signs point to steady growth, at least for the considerable future.
To know more about desktops and why you should consider it first for application development, join industry experts and thousands of developers and designers like you in a five-day open online conference Desktop First UX Summit.