It is more than a decade since people started telling us we are in the post-PC era. I’m guilty1. From memory the idea took off soon after crowds first queued to buy the original Apple iPhone.
There is something in the idea. PC sales peaked in 2011 at 365 million. In big picture terms it has been downhill ever since. Last year people bought 260 million PCs. In comparison phone hit 1.5 billion sales. That’s roughly six new phones for every computer2 .
Yet, to steal Mark Twain’s joke, reports of the PCs’ death are an exaggeration.
Who you gonna call?
Nothing illustrates this better than the response to the Covid–19 pandemic. Phone sales dropped when companies, schools and whole communities moved into lockdown.
All the big brands saw strong growth of notebooks and desktops. Apple, Acer and HP all saw double-digit year-on-year growth. Apple is up 36 percent on the year earlier. HP remains in the top slot with 17.7 percent growth. Dell was weakest with only a 3.6 percent increase.
Reports say HP took a punt early on in the quarter and increased its notebook orders with its suppliers. The bet paid off.
Notebooks were the biggest winners. Channels around the world reported selling out of many models. It didn’t help that China, where most computers are made, was in lockdown during the period and the logistics firms moving hardware around the world had reduced capacity.
The main driver was the shift away from offices to working from home. Schools sending students home to continue learning online was another major cause. Both of these were obvious to anyone watching events. Less obvious was the number of people buying home computers to help relive lock-down boredom.
An untold story of the quarter was the shift from retail computer sales to online stores. Customers couldn’t shop, but they could click online. It’s possible this change may stick as the world moves on from lockdowns. This may have wider implications.
The PC may not be dead. Yet despite the new relevance, sales are still nowhere near the peak. And most analysts see the recent strong result as a one-off. The long slow decline may, or may not, have bottomed out, but no-one sees long term recovery.
Indeed, a worldwide recession is likely to have an impact on future PC sales. Mind you, the impact could be worse for phone sales.
Still, the key point here is that when the going got tough, people didn’t reach for phones, they reached for PCs. That should restore some confidence to the market.
A previous, long dead blog of mine used the term post-PC an August 2011 entry IBM CTO: PC dead, we bailed long ago. ↩︎
Tablets change things a bit, but you get the picture here ↩︎
Less than a third of those surveyed are happy with things as they stand. Six percent of New Zealanders would like to see less regulation.
Women are more likely to want more privacy than men. The survey found Māori are more likely to be very concerned about individual privacy than others.
Business sharing private data
In general, New Zealanders are most concerned about businesses sharing personal information without permission. Three quarters of the sample worry about this. Almost as many, 72 percent, have concerns about theft of banking details. The same number has fears about the security of online personal information.
The use of facial recognition and closed circuit TV technology is of concern to 41 percent.
UMR Research conducted the survey earlier this year. It interviewed 1,398 New Zealanders.
The survey results appeared a week after Parliament passed the 2020 Privacy Act. They show the public is in broad support of the way New Zealand regulates privacy.
Most of the changes to the Privacy Act bring it up to date. Parliament passed the previous Act in 1993 as the internet moved into the mainstream. There have been huge technology changes since then.
Justice Minister Andrew Little says the legislation introduces mechanisms to promote early intervention and risk management by agencies rather than relying on people making complaints after a privacy breach has already happened.
Eagle technology is helping farmers to use spatial mapping to manage their businesses. Last week I interviewed Eagle Technology GIS product owner Lauren McArtney and Scott Campbell, the company’s head of GIS technology for the NZ Herald.
There’s nothing new about farmers using spatial mapping to manage a farm. They have done it for centuries.
Now farmers make digital maps and, as the Herald feature shows, allows them to get more from their data.
Agricultural GIS seems to be reaching its stride thanks to the arrival of cloud computing, the Internet-of-things, drones and recent technologies.
Some employers will give you a work-from-home computer. Others leave the choice or even the cost up to you. You may be your own employer and make all your own decisions.
Either way here’s a short, straightforward guide on choosing the best computer for your needs.
Start by taking a breath. There is no need to stress. You won’t fail this test. Making the wrong choice will not be a disaster.
That’s because for most people reading this almost anything you buy will be adequate. It will get the job done. There are some exceptions. We’ll look closer at them later. But if you fall into the exception camp you already know that.
Here we’re going to focus on finding the right kind of computer for you to work from home. That means something you are comfortable with. One that fits with both your work and the way you live at home. We’ll consider entertainment and other non-work tasks.
We’ll leave specifics, which brands, operating systems and models for another time. This is the first of a series of posts.
What is a computer anyway?
Let’s start by looking at the big picture. When we say computer, we mean what people in the industry might call a device. It could be a desktop personal computer, it could be a laptop or a tablet.
There are devices that sit between these classes. There are 2-in–1 devices that sit between laptops and tablets. Desktop replacement laptops are another class straddling category. As you can guess from the name, occupy the space between conventional laptops and desktop PCs.
At a pinch the right device for your needs could even be a high end mobile phone. Premium smartphones are a least as powerful as most conventional computers. You can connect many phones to keyboards and screens to act more like everyday computers. Samsung designed the Dex range to make this easier and better..
For the sake of keeping things simple, let’s say a computer comes with a screen, a processor and storage. Most come with a keyboard and either a mouse or a touchpad. There are devices worth considering where these are an optional extra.
Cloud does heavy lifting
Earlier we saw that almost anything you buy will be adequate. That’s because cloud computing can do much, even all, of the heavy lifting. So long as you have a reliable internet connection you’ll be able to connect to cloud services.
There’s a good chance the software and tools your company work with are already hosted in the cloud. The most popular cloud software is Google G-Suite and Microsoft 365.
Even the most basic device can connect to the cloud. In some cases there are cloud versions of applications that you might run on a desktop when working in the office.
Being able to connect to cloud apps and tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams covers most of the important stuff. Up to a point everything else in this post is about the icing on the cake. Your choices can make for a better working experience. They will give you something more comfortable to live with, can make you more productive and will offer more fun when you’re not working.
The perfect device depends on what you intend to do, where you intend to do it, how you live and how much budget you have.
Laptops are the most popular choice by a long way. They range from tiny ultraportable laptops to huge desktop replacements. You can pick up a serviceable low-end laptop for a few hundred dollars or spend thousands.
If you don’t have a spare room or a rumpus that can act as a home office, a laptop you can pack away means you can work on the kitchen table or anywhere else. As things return to normal you can take the laptop to a cafe or the local library. You’ll also be able to carry it between the office and home when needed.
The laptop downside is they often don’t last as long as desktop computers. In part that’s because they can take more of a hammering. Moving them around and bumping them doesn’t help.
Some laptops are fragile, others are more robust. As a rule of thumb smaller, lighter, thinner models are more robust. But first impressions can be deceptive.
Although it is easy to upgrade some laptops, that’s not always the case. This means the internal hardware can become out of date if newer, more demanding applications come along or if your needs change.
Unless you have technical and fine motor skills it is best to leave laptop upgrades and repairs to professionals. There is a cost, but it is often worth the investment.
You will hear stories of people who made a laptop last a decade or more. It happens far more often than the industry might have you think. Yet in general you can expect about five years useful life from a laptop if you look after it.
If mobility is your main consideration you may do better to choose a tablet with a keyboard case.
Tablets are easier to move around even when compared with light laptops. You can sometimes work on them in places where laptops feel clumsy. If space at home is tight or there’s a lot of competition for the kitchen table, a tablet could be your best bet.
Although tablets are not always more robust than laptops they often cope better with knocks if you have a nomadic working life. You will need to buy a cover or case to protect the screen. Often tablet keyboards double as protective covers.
Tablets tend to go a longer time between charges than laptops, but that can be down to how you use them.
You can buy tablets that connect direct to the mobile network for communications. Yet most tablet users do fine relying on Wi-fi or by tethering to a mobile phone to reach the internet.
Some laptops fold, origami style, to become tablets. Some can also work in a tent configuration. This is useful for watching movies or giving presentations.
It’s not always the case, but foldable laptops can be more fragile than straightforward tablets or laptops. Take care when choosing.
Another consideration with hybrids that almost everyone overlooks is that buyers often end up using them as only a laptop or tablet.
Given they tend to cost a little more than straight laptops and tablets, this means you can waste money. There are almost always better ways to spend that part of your tech budget.
Desktops almost forgotten these days
Laptops outsell desktops almost two to one1. In round numbers that means desktops only account for one computer sale in five.
There is still a strong case for choosing a desktop computer. Yet they are not right for everyone2.
Desktops can have big screens, far bigger than even the largest laptop. Big screens are great for productivity. They allow you to place documents or windows side by side. If you work with spreadsheets you can see a lot more data.
Desktop computer productive, fun
At a pinch a large desktop computer screen can double as your television. Lots of people do this with laptop or tablet screens, but larger screens are better. Desktops can also have far better audio speakers than laptops. In general they are better than laptops for games and other entertainment software.
You can also use a proper keyboard. While many laptops have great keyboards, desktop keyboards are often better. Again this can help productivity, especially if you are a touch typist.
In some ways desktop computers can be less expensive than laptops. You generally get more raw computing power, storage and graphics for your money.
Desktops also tend to be far easier to upgrade. They take less of a hammering, so you can make them last far longer than a laptop.
You need to have enough room and a spare desk or table for a desktop computer. You can’t pack it up when you’re not working. You can push the screen back and store the bulky part under the desk.
Don’t get too hung up on specifications
At the top of this story it says specifications are not the most important thing to consider any more. That’s true, but it needs more explaining.
Almost every device has more than enough power to handle all your everyday tasks. Writing, web surfing, playing music, watching videos and Zoom calls will not challenge any modern device.
Likewise every modern device will come with a screen of some description, that way you can see what is going on.
Storage used to be a huge deal. Today, if there’s not enough in the device you choose, you can make up for the shortfall by using cloud storage.
Where computer specifications matter
More processing power and memory means you can run more applications at the same time. You also need a more powerful processor if you want photo, video or music editing.
People who work with large databases or huge spreadsheets also need more powerful processors. But you can often let cloud computing do that kind of heavy lifting.
So by all means choose an upscale specification, but don’t waste money buying more computer than you will ever need. You’d be better off spending that money on a better quality device. We’ll come back to this point in a later post.
In case you were wondering laptops outsell tablets by around four to three. ↩︎
I’ve recently gone back to using a desktop as my main work-from-home computer. ↩︎
Sometimes the stars align. Apple set out its hardware stall in early 2020 with advanced, yet lower priced, iPhones, iPads and Macs. The the pandemic hit.
Affordable models arrived as the world tightened its belt to deal with the inevitable downturn.
Take the iPhone SE. It looks like a two-year-old iPhone on the outside. Yet inside the case it has a 2020 processor. The A13 Bionic chip also powers the iPhone 11.
April’s story calls it an iPhone that’s right for lockdown times. News reports suggest the SE sell faster than Apple expected. The company struggled to meet demand. Although that could also be down to pandemic supply chain problems.
Last month’s iPhone SE review says: “This may not be the most exciting iPhone from a technology point of view. Yet it is the iPhone a lot of people have been waiting for.”
You can’t argue a NZ$800 phone is cheap. Many readers will wince if we describe it as affordable.
Yet it puts advanced technology and, arguably, the best experience in reach of more buyers.
The iPhone SE stacks up well against similar price competitors. If Android is not your thing and you prefer to avoid second hand hardware, its $800 price tag is tempting.
This year’s base iPad model costs NZ$600. You get a lot of iPad, but not enough storage. Its 32GB is not enough for most uses. Pay $780 and you’ll get a 128GB model. It represents good value for money.
Move up to the iPad Pro and prices start at NZ$1500 for an 11-inch model. That’s in line with prices two years ago but you get more iPad. The base Pro now comes with 128GB at the price of the two year old 64GB model.
Although currency movements haven’t been kind to New Zealand, prices for new MacBook Airs are still $100 or so lower than the models they replace. They come with better keyboards. Apple kept MacBook Pro prices in line with earlier models, but bumped the storage. Likewise the Mac mini.
Apple remains at the more expensive end of the market when benchmarked against similar hardware from other laptop makers. Yet the gap has narrowed. If you like the performance, the operating system and the wider Apple experience that margin is less of a barrier than it was.
Apple still has nosebleed prices if you know where to look. You could fork out NZ$10,800 for the basic Tower version of the Mac Pro. A full configured model can cost more than NZ$94,000. That includes NZ$700 to put wheels on the beast.
That’s not likely to be on your shopping list. A nice iPad keyboard might be. Apple wants NZ$549 for the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. That’s pushing it.
Some incorrect prices were shown in an earlier version of this post.