The PC Used to Rule the Tech World, but It's Going out of Style Fast  

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 3 2013 8:26 AM

PC Sales Are Collapsing   

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It's gonna be huge.

Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

IDC's latest estimate of the 2013 market for personal computers projects a remarkable 10 percent decline in sales for the one-time king of the technology landscape.

The main culprit, pretty clearly at this point, is mobile. I sometimes hear people talk about whether a tablet or a smartphone can serve as a "PC replacement," with people usually answering in the negative. But that's because the people I hear talk about this are usually people like me—people whose job involves using a computer as the key work tool and who also work somewhat irregular hours.

But suppose you have a more normal typical job taking care of kids or old people or sick people, serving food, cutting hair, fixing plumbing, driving a car or truck, or working a cash register? In that case it used to be that either you had to cut yourself off from the digital world or else you had to own a personal computer that was really built and designed for the occupational needs of professional computer-users. Now a smartphone keeps you connected to the internet so you can send and receive email, check Facebook, check sports scores, check the weather, play games, and even read Slate. If you've got money to burn you might supplement your smartphone with an optimized reading and video watching device like a tablet. Or else you might go with a large format "phablet" type phone to serve both needs in a cost-effective way.

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Meanwhile, back at the office how much money does corporate really want to shell out for computer upgrades? Moore's law is still in effect, as we can see from the fact that 2013 smartphones are way better than 2008 smartphones. But for PCs, diminishing returns have clearly set in for folks who aren't doing a lot of video editing or "big data." When someone's computer breaks, of course you'll replace it. But are you going to upgrade just for the sake of upgrading? Why? Especially with everyone hating Windows 8, it doesn't make much sense.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.