Is the traditional desktop computer doomed in the face of cheap and user-friendly tablets?
It’s safe to say that 2014 was a good year for the tablet computing sector. Sales grew by almost 50 per cent compared to 2013, with a third of children aged 5-15 now owning a tablet. Ofcom reports that while 78 per cent of UK adults still use PCs and laptops to access the internet, 30 per cent also use tablets – twice the number recorded just a year earlier. Little wonder when it’s possible to acquire a 7” tablet for just £10 per month with no upfront fee.
In the face of this cut-price onslaught, the beleaguered desktop PC is in danger of looking antiquated. Its bulk sits awkwardly alongside wafer-thin tablets, and even laptops are increasingly featuring detachable screens that double as handheld devices for added portability. With their noisy fans and space-hungry peripherals, desktop towers are now redundant for people whose processing requirements extend no further than status updates and catapulting birds at pigs.
However, rumours of the desktop’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. While tablets are fine for content consumption, they’re pretty poor at actually creating anything. Desktop computers can perform pretty much any task which should ensure their survival for some time yet – particularly in the following areas:
- Offices. While financial institutions and sales organisations are increasingly furnishing their staff with laptops (for home working and hot desking), most employers still buy desktop PCs in bulk. With a suitable chair and an eye-level monitor, this represents the most ergonomic way for people to work over long periods of time. Desktops are also designed to network with each other (whereas tablets are effectively standalone devices that can’t be hardwired), and computers can run popular packages like Excel with ease. Printing documents from a tablet is also difficult, if print functionality even exists within a particular app or program.
- Data entry. Anyone who’s ever tried to type a long document on a tablet will know the limitations of touch-sensitive keyboards, particularly when you have to access sub-menus to find commonly-used symbols. Tablets are fine for social media updates or entering credit card details, but their small on-screen keyboards are hard to use comfortably for more than a few minutes. On top of that, rudimentary word processing apps aren’t fit to record the macros of the hugely flexible Microsoft Word.
- Design and programming. The TV schedules are full of architects waving iPads around on building sites, but these are always supplementary to the high-end PCs and Macs used for graphic design and CAD work. Adobe have made a big play of having software packages available through their proprietary Creative Cloud, but these processor-hungry programs still require large screens and pinpoint precision from optical mice. As for programming, it simply can’t be done on a ten-inch touchscreen.
- Gaming. While Dumb Ways to Die and Flick Shoot 2 are great for keeping you entertained at the bus stop, they’re hardly Crysis 3. The cutting-edge graphics of today’s immersive games would overwhelm any tablet, which is designed to provide clear static images rather than perfectly-rendered moving ones. Even though dedicated games consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One provide impressive graphics processing, high-end (or customised) PCs have always had more advanced specs.
- Customisation. A tablet is a sealed unit with preordained components and no input ports other than a headphone jack and a USB-type socket. By contrast, computers can be transformed with new internal hardware or peripherals. Look at the number of ports on the back of any tower and consider the versatility they provide – conversely, tablets are limited to devices they can connect with wirelessly. You can’t hardwire a tablet to a modem, install a new hard drive, or even replace a worn-out battery.
- Science and Research. Whilst tablets could be a part of such projects as Folding at Home, it’s the desktop PC with it’s powerful CPU and GPU which rules in science processing environments. Folding at Home uses home PC’s when their owner doesn’t need to them to help find cures for diseases or crunch numbers.
- Bit Coin Mining. People still do this, and it requires a stunning level of Graphics Processing Power, something tablets just don’t have!
- Open source, indie and boutique software. The PC is king when it comes to the sheer innovation and creativity of open source and independent software, whilst app stores for tablets are excellent, they have a long way to go to catch up with projects such as Sourceforge!
- Life Expectancy. A desktop will last a lot longer than a tablet, generally speaking you won’t drop it or lose it and the modular nature of PC’s means you can replace component parts to keep it current. Something tablets currently can’t compete with!
- Compatibility! PC’s are established hardware with Operating Systems that have a backwards compatible history. Tablets and their apps and OS versions are often incompatible, apps that will run on one iteration of Android will often not run on an OS that is a few months older. Another realm where the Desktop PC rules!
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