Pundits have long written off PCs as clunky remnants from the dark ages of computing. As recently as a year ago, the director of a respected research institution predicted that tablets like the iPad and others powered by Android and Microsoft would become the primary tool for personal computing within three years. That day has yet to dawn, the expert just conceded.
But PCs are indeed falling behind in the marketplace. A quarter of computer owners say they will not replace their desktop or laptop PCs when their current machines become unusable, according to a national survey sponsored by the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
The center's director is Jeffrey Cole, the pundit who had to recalibrate his earlier timetable for tablet dominance.
Nonetheless, Cole maintains, there is a sea change underway in the way we compute. The explosive growth of tablet use has created significant shifts in how, when and why Americans go online, he said.
"Clearly, more computer users are ready to make the switch to a PC-less lifestyle by moving to tablets and other devices," he said.
However, as the survey shows, three-quarters of computer users will still replace their current computers with new PCs when the old machines become unusable.
When asked why they would not switch to a tablet or similar device, 66 percent of those users said a PC is more comfortable to use than a tablet. Fifty-eight percent said they need a screen larger than those available on other devices, and 56 percent said a PC is better for complex tasks or that they need a keyboard or mouse.
Tablets clearly still present a steep learning curve for many users, Cole admits.
"The tablet has yet to prove its full functionality," Cole said. "As more ambitious work on a tablet becomes possible as software choices grow, more users will move to tablets. Until then, we will see [a] growing desire to move to tablet-only computing, but our findings show almost three-quarters of computer users are not yet ready to make the complete change.
"The industry talks about the tablet taking over, but for now there is still a substantial market for traditional PCs."