Skip to main content

PCs are exciting again as we head into a new age of mobile computing

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold (Image credit: Windows Central)

Earlier today, news came out from IDC and Gartner regarding sales of Windows PCs and laptops. To be fair, the 0.6% growth from 2018 (Gartner) is reasonably small, and we have regularly seen quarter growth (year-over-year) in the past. But this is the first time since 2011 that the entire year saw shipments of PC rise and that's a big deal.

The elephant in the room – as both IDC and Gartner point out – is the end of Windows 7 driving adoption of new Windows 10 hardware by enterprise. That push is expected to continue into 2020 as IT departments play catch up to redeploy modern PCs with improved security standards based on Windows 10.

But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that PCs are, once again, a significant category for everyone.

PC gaming is bigger than ever (IDC cites 16.5% year over year for Q2 2019, as one example). Many of those gaming PC and peripheral sales are laptops at nearly 45 percent. IDC estimates almost 10 percent year-over-year growth for all of 2019 in gaming PC-related categories.

Avita Laptops

Source: Windows CentralColorful fashion-forward laptops from Avita are also priced for a budget. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Enterprise is more reliant than ever on mobile laptop solutions, including the increasingly popular "always-connected" devices with 4G LTE and soon 5G.

Consumer-focused devices like the Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360 13, Razer Blade Stealth, and Lenovo Yoga C940 continue to be pushed to mass audiences beyond business use. And Microsoft has no less than seven Surface PCs and laptops – quite a jump from Surface Pro and RT in 2012.

Indeed, headlines like "Global PC market posts record growth in 7 years, shipments up 4.7% in Q3 2019" are not that uncommon anymore.

Dell Project UFO

Source: Windows CentralDell's Concept UFO is a Windows 10 and Intel-powered handheld PC for gaming. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

All of that positive news despite of rampant reports that Intel can't even meet OEM demand for its processors, causing bottlenecks in delivery.

While smartphone quarterly shipments (~332 million) dwarf PC and laptop (~72 million), it's the former category that has seen stalling in shipments or even seeing a decline. Indeed, Q3 2019 smartphone shipments rose a very modest 1 percent – the first growth in two years according to Canalys. Smartphones, like PCs, have become ubiquitous and commodified, which just means it's a mature market. Infinite or even double-digit growth in hardware shipments always peaks at some point.

Even at popular trade shows, like the just-wrapped CES 2020, smartphones are taking a back seat. Once, I skipped CES due to the lack of anything significant to cover, but in 2020, no less than 40 laptops were announced or refreshed with new hardware. Dell, Lenovo, HP, ASUS, Acer, and even smaller white-label brands were all out in force. Mobile World Congress (late February 2020) is also increasingly becoming a laptop show.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus

Source: Windows CentralLenovo's ThinkBook Plus adds a 10.3-inch eink display to the outer cover for inking and more. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

None of this is to suggest that smartphones are dead, or that laptops are the next big thing. But what we are seeing is the real beginning of convergence between the two categories. Devices like the forthcoming Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, Surface Neo and Surface Duo, are changing how we think about mobile computing. Technology advances like 5G, 7nm processors, cloud gaming, leaps in display technology, and people's need for "real" computing beyond the phone is helping to drive all of this.

While the post-PC era never arrived, we are on the cusp of a new age of computing – one where traditional categories blur. What you think a computer is will be challenged, and that's always exciting.

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

10 Comments
  • I remember when Windows 8 released there were unique devices came out like the Dell XPS 12, Asus Taichi that reinvented the laptop for touch. Only the Lenovo Yoga convertible style really lived on
  • Yup, and it'll be like that again for dual-display/foldable display devices as we figure what works and what doesn't. Lenovo already released a dual-display PC (Yoga Book, Yoga Book 2) where they learned a lot e.g. people want a physical kb. HP Folio and new Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel are still pushing 2-in-1 in new directions.
  • I think physical KB is as necessary than it was is on phones... Until someone finds the right way to implement it and make it work it will be a gimmick but touch will eventually be the standard IMHO... Or we could skip KB all together at some point maybe... Talk to text... Or better thought to text
  • I use the software keyboard on my Windows and Android tablets all the time and I have to say I disagree. I really, really need a physical keyboard! I think this phone-hybrid foldable/dual situation is more like tablets than phone when it comes to the necessity of keyboards for common use cases.
  • I think that the new age belongs to cloud computing and in times to come, laptops & smartphones will be nothing more than terminals.
  • Thank you for sharing not just my view but my true experience.
    Imaging if MSFT's mobile computing continuum have survived?
    I do believe it's iteration will be back and that is all I need to compute.
  • Honestly.... the prediction of the end of the PC era sounds very similar to the 1975 Business week " paperless office" prediction or the late eighties predictions when "W*ng" Labs introduced electronic workflow " W*ng Freestyle" .
    Early the nineties a cynic predicted " the paperless office is as likely as the paperless toilet" …. Not sure why but I have the same feeling about those masterminds that predict the end of the PC is near... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRKzmFH7-cM
  • Ditto for the geniuses who predict the end of work is near. I watched a documentary about the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and Arthur C. Clark said back then everyone thought computers as intelligent as people would be a reality by the late 20th century.
  • hmmmmm I dont want to comment here
  • "None of this is to suggest that smartphones are dead, or that laptops are the next big thing. But what we are seeing is the real beginning of convergence between the two categories. Devices like the forthcoming Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, Surface Neo and Surface Duo, are changing how we think about mobile computing. Technology advances like 5G, 7nm processors, cloud gaming, leaps in display technology, and people's need for "real" computing beyond the phone is helping to drive all of this." I think this summary here sums up your take / article perfectly for me., I do agree.