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Growing reliance seen on smartphones and tablets over laptops and PCs

Matt Hamblen | Dec. 9, 2014
Personal preference will still be a deciding factor, Gartner says.

four professionals looking at mobile devices
Credit: Thinkstock

There's a persistent debate going on in the IT industry over whether smartphones and tablets will replace laptops and desktops in coming years, especially in the workplace.

Market research firm Gartner on Monday issued a bold prediction that by 2018, more than half of all users will use a tablet or smartphone first -- instead of a laptop or desktop -- for all online activities.

Gartner said all online activities, which seems a bit of a stretch when it comes to the workplace, where many complex tasks, including the use of graphics and spreadsheets, are done with desktops, sometimes coupled with oversized monitors.

"The use pattern that has emerged for nearly all consumers [including workers], based on device accessibility, is the smartphone first as a device that is carried when mobile, followed by the tablet that is used in longer sessions, with the PC increasingly reserved for more complex tasks," said Gartner analyst Van Baker, in a statement.

That behavior pattern will eventually incorporate wearables, such as smartwatches, as they become widely available, Baker added. Voice and gesture input will gain popularity and content consumption will outdistance content creation, all of which will move users farther away from the PC, he said.

Creating content, however, favors desktop machines with bigger displays and, usually, more processing power. But Baker's point makes sense for workers who are mobile and tend to favor carrying a smartphone and a tablet over a laptop. He also includes growth in the use of tablets in the home environment, where it's easier to pull out a tablet while watching TV.

Executives over the past year have told Computerworld that they favor a lightweight tablet with a physical keyboard along with a smartphone (or two) for a business trip of several days, although they all keep a powerful desktop back at work, or have access to one.

"If Gartner had said 'most' online activities, I'd agree, but 'all' is too encompassing," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "For Twitter, Facebook, even email, that might be the case, but for activities like document processing -- still a major workplace requirement -- and other complex tasks, I don't see the PC, in all its forms, like 2-in-1s, going away."

Gartner's prediction about the growing dominance of tablets and smartphones comes when the PC shipment declines of recent years have begun to slow. "In 2014, the PC market proved it wasn't dead," said IDC analyst Tom Mainelli in a December presentation.

Desktop PC shipments will reach 133.5 million units in 2014. That's down 2.3% from 2013, which had a decline of 7.8% for the prior year, IDC said. Laptops shipments, meanwhile, will reach 173.4 million units in 2014, a decline of 2.9% over 2013. In the previous year. laptop shipments declined by 11.3%.


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