Is The Desktop Really (Pretty Much) Dead?

I read an article recently claiming that “The desktop is (pretty much) dead” and I could not help but wonder if this was just an attempt at riling people up, drawing readership (they got me to read it), or just plain fantasy that “cloud” providers cook up to justify their continued push for ever increasing budgets with limited returns.

Sure, they bombard us with International Data Corporation (IDC) statistics and charts to bolster their arguments. But like sports analysts who glowingly call U.S. MLB, NBA & NFL champions “World” champions, one is forced to ask “what “World” are they referring to?”

Is there really compelling evidence that the desktop as we know it will vanish in Africa, Asia, South America, China, Europe (East & West), and even the United states and Canada by 2017? Really?

Does the projection of smartphones and tablets garnering 67% and 16% of market share respectively really signify the “death” of the desktop? Is it possible that these mobile devices are bought and used as supplements to the desktop computer rather than a replacement, just like the writer of that article probably does?

Didn’t we go through this desktop is dead thing when the iPad came out? The fact is that as much as we talk about the shift in the mode of application delivery, the tendency or attempt to move local compute to the cloud etc., the desktop as we know it today will be here for quite a while – unless we can have 20-30″ tablets that will fit in a laptop bag!

There are some industries and jobs that do not work well with a tablet or smartphone. Engineering and architecture comes to mind readily and you can throw in avid gamers and graphic designers. Sure a graphic designer can whip up quick images and art on a tablet, but are we to believe that if a graphic designer has the option of using a tablet or a desktop in creating a complex design, they will opt for the tablet? Or that major corporations of the world will ditch their desktops and the myriad of legacy aplications sitting on them for the tablet? Not likely.

There are some things a tablet just can’t do very well, yet. For most IT services providers, I can’t imagine trying to monitor and manage the servers and desktops of several clients, including remote login and command-line ninjutsu on a tablet or smartphone, comfortably – as sexy as it may sound. I tried it on a Nokia N900 a while back and it was not fun.

There is also the issue of convenience and trust, if you will. I have several tablets and Smartphones, but I am very cautious about what I store on these devices because of the form-factor. The Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus smartphone for example, do not have external storage like an encrypted MicroSD card. This limits the use of the device because of the limited amount of information  one is willing to trust to the device (in case it “dies”). And before you say “use cloud storage”, that is not an option for the type of data some have to deal with, plus that may not be an option in some parts of the world.

And speaking of storage, I think we are still a couple of years off from a tablet or smartphone with four terabytes or more of storage.

And if we want to be picky about the term “desktops”, is it surprising that many tablet users are spending extra cash for keyboard add-ons? That is one of the reasons the Asus Transformer was such a hit – the desktop-like experience.

On a world-wide scale, consider the cost and availability factor. For a poor family, the cost of one high-end tablet could provide about two to three low-end e-Machine/Acer/Gateway desktops for the home – a no-brainer purchase. And in many parts of the world, people are just now being introduced to the world of computers and dial-up Internet access. For these folks, the tablet is an expensive luxury and I doubt that much of that situation will change by 2017. Not when you are trying to put food on the table and a roof over your head.

In addition, mobile data networks in many parts of the developing world are not ready even for regular Internet usage, and their costs are higher. For these folks, the desktop is going to be relevant for a while.

While it may be true that several homes and schools in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia are sold on tablets and smartphones, many universities, colleges and high schools in developing nations are still at the infancy stage in terms of the use of computers – some can barely afford good school equipment. So the question again is, what world was the writer actually referring to in pronouncing the “death” of the desktop?

Is it realistic to argue at this point that “The Desktop Is (Pretty Much) Dead”? Not when Lenovo is meeting with government and private organisations from across Africa to talk business and making plans on “leading in Africa PC market” in 2013!

How about this? “The retail network for computers in Dubai is next in size only to the network of foodstores, textiles, gold and electronics. The annual turnover of this market is estimated at about US$1 billion per year”. Those US$1 billion purchases have to be used somehow, right?

John Hiner observed way back in 2010 that ” the tech world has been a bit over-infatuated with tablets this year — myself included, at times. While tablets are starting to make a lot of sense for workers who spend their days on-the-go, in conference rooms, and on-site with clients, there are still plenty of employees who remain tied to their desks for most of the day and are under a lot of pressure to produce. For these workers, the desktop computer remains the best tool for the job”. That observation still holds true today.

For “simple” tasks like  writing and editing articles, viewing web pages, making online purchases, or managing social media channels, there could be an argument for the “death” of the desktop given that new development platforms like Blink are focusing more on consumer-side rendering for smartphones and tablets than a regular PC. It will be interesting to see how it goes and what it does.

The biggest issue seems to be that developers have to add significant amounts of coding changes to make applications render in a way suitable to a smartphone and tablet as well as a regular PC. Given this inherent obstacle, it is safe to argue that it is a little premature to pronounce the desktop dead, even in the United States.

I don’t mind service providers hyping things up to make a sale, but this overly broad and unqualified statement is a little over the top and harkens to the typical sales stereotype that Daniel Pink referred to as “pushy”.