As laptops dominate, desktop PCs face obsolescence
TAIWAN: The age of the desktop PC appears to be over as its more
portable cousin, the laptop, surges ahead with consumers clamouring for
light-weight computers in funky designs for use at home, in cafes and on
the train to work.
Not a single desktop model figured on online shopping portal
Amazon.com's top 10 selling PC and hardware list the weekend before
Christmas, while seven laptop models made the list.
It was yet another sign that the former dominance of desktop PCs is
fading as wireless advances and lower prices make laptops the preferred
option for millions of PC users around the world.
"On both price and performance, laptops are so competitive now it's
surprising they weren't able to catch up with desktops even earlier,"
said iSuppli analyst Peter Lin.
"The ability to surf the Internet wirelessly at public places, the
need to be able to take your office out with you when you travel, and an
increasing range of notebook computers have all led to lower desktop
Laptops posted a milestone in the third quarter of 2008, passing
desktop PC sales for the first time, according to research group iSuppli.
With an entry level price of $300 for some basic models, laptops
should bolster their position in 2009. They are forecast to take up
about 55 percent of all computer shipments, according to data tracking
Many companies eagerly awaiting the era of the laptop are in Taiwan,
maker of about 80 percent of the world's laptop PCs. They include the
world's top two contract manufacturers, Quanta and Compal Electronics,
and two of the most aggressive laptop brands, Acer and Asustek.
While those firms have seen their market share rise, the world's top
two PC makers overall, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have seen their share
Other companies that produce parts such as motherboards for bulky
desktop PCs are already switching production to parts for other
electronic gadgets such as iPhones.
While laptops used to cost more than double that of a desktop with
equivalent processing power, advances in technology and economies of
scale have dragged prices down so much that little price differentiation
exists today for most consumers looking for a daily use PC, analysts
"It's just evolutionary I suppose," said Gartner analyst Tracy Tsai.
"Things have reached a point where the price difference is no longer as
pronounced as before for many consumers, and the average person is more
likely to choose the option that offers him portability over the one
To keep their growth coming, Acer, Asustek and others vying for
laptop dominance are increasingly looking to segmentation, taking aim at
the wide range of computer buyers.
The runaway success of low-cost mini notebooks, initially derided by
many industry watchers but now one of the fastest growing categories,
could foreshadow a coming boom in products offering a wide range of
prices and functions.
"There is incredible choice in the notebook space now," said IDC
analyst Richard Shim. "You can get notebooks at every inch size from
5-inch to 20-inch."
Alex Gruzen, Dell's manager for consumer products, agreed that the
days when his company could offer laptops "in the same shades of grey"
are coming to an end.
Segmentation comes in both form and substance. In the former, Asustek
offers a bamboo-cased laptop for the environmentally conscious. HP has
tied up with designer Vivenne Tam to release the "world's first digital
clutch", a notebook designed to look like a woman's handbag.
On the more technical front, companies are offering an ever wider
range of specialised laptops in varying sizes, processing speeds,
wireless capabilities and prices. Battery life is also coming into play,
with HP recently announcing that one of its notebooks had broken the
Faster boot-up times and features such as touch-screens are also
being touted as companies try to convert former desktop users and build
WHAT'S LEFT FOR DESKTOPS?
As portability becomes the norm, some are asking if there's any room
left for desktops in the brave new era of laptops.
Salesmen at Taipei's Kuanghwa computer market, one of the city's top
PC hang-outs, said hardcore computer game addicts may be one of the few
groups to keep buying desktops that offer greater processing power for
"Hardly anyone buys desktops anymore," said Elton Tsai, gesturing
towards the solitary HP desktop sitting in his shop amid rows of
"Anyone who is enough of a geek to want real processing power can
probably assemble his own computer, saving himself at least a few
thousand Taiwan dollars in the process," Tsai said.
But not everyone believes the desktop, which was first introduced in
the 1970s, will soon be relegated to the junkyard of history. After all,
desktops can still offer substantial savings, especially for those who
are handy with a screwdriver. "How can a laptop compete with a desktop
on price?", asked Gartner analyst Lillian Tay.
"Especially in the emerging markets where price is a consideration,
laptops simply cannot compete on price with a group of people who slap a
motherboard, a hard drive and a few chips together to get a desktop,"