The PC is dying a death by a thousand cuts

The latest Gartner numbers on PC sales released Thursday were truly atrocious as they showed that overall PC sales declined by just under 7% year-over-year, which Gartner says is “the worst decline in PC market history.” Gartner says this decline could be particularly acute in emerging markets where tablets and smartphones present much cheaper alternatives to full-blown personal computers. The Washington Post’s Timothy Lee takes a look at some of the devices on display at CES this week and finds that traditional PC OEMs are already preparing for a world where full PCs are relegated to niche products that are used in offices but not much anywhere else.

“Conventional PCs face a growing army of cheap, special-purpose rivals,” he says. “No single device is an adequate PC replacement all by itself. But together, the growing menagerie of devices is making PC ownership less and less necessary for ordinary consumers.”

Lee also thinks that Microsoft is also still having trouble coming to grips with why demand for Windows-based PCs has shrunk in favor of smartphones and tablets: In essence, it’s not just about the price but also about the simplicity. He thinks this is no more evident than in Microsoft’s latest ad campaign against Chromebooks. In fact, Lee thinks that Microsoft might be playing right into Google’s hands when it plays the “tools not toys” card that BlackBerry unsuccessfully tried to play against Apple.

“Microsoft is right: if you want to do serious spreadsheet wrangling, photo editing, or software development, a Chromebook probably won’t cut it,” he explains. “But most people have no interest in doing those things outside the office. If, like millions of people, you mostly want to check Facebook, read your email, and watch YouTube videos, then a Chromebook works just fine. And Chromebooks aren’t only cheaper, they also avoid many of the hassles and pitfalls — software updates, malware, baffling error messages — of Windows PCs. Most users don’t actually need all the features of a standard PC, and for them the extra complexity just means more headaches.”