Do tablets cut into PC sales?

I see multiple reports that PC makers are seeing tablets cut into the sales of traditional PCs.

The two items don’t compete directly, but when consumers have limited disposable income, I can see them either buying a less-expensive PC so they can also buy a tablet, or hanging on to an aging PC another year or two in order to afford a tablet. If you already have a PC, and it works well enough, the second strategy certainly can work. Tablets are a new big thing, and we’re still coming out of a recession, so everyone isn’t flush with cash right now.

Last month I paid a visit to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which was where I got my degree and started my IT career. I dropped in on my former boss. We’ve stayed on good terms–he was one of the technical reviewers on my book and did an outstanding job–and I like to get his perspective on things when I get the chance.

He said that when they make their computer purchases today, they have a set budget for their staff. I forget what the choices are, exactly, but basically they can get a desktop and a tablet, a nice top-end laptop, or a midrange laptop and a tablet. And he said most people choose one of the computer-tablet combinations. The combination of the two gives them maximum versatility and flexibility.

And it makes sense. If you’re heavily into gaming or video production, then sure, you need to replace your PC hardware on a fairly regular basis and stay on the high end if you want to keep up. But it doesn’t take a ton of CPU power to do basic, ordinary tasks like e-mail, word processing, balancing a checkbook, and watching Youtube video. I’ve found that if you have a 2 GHz processor or better, you can extend its usable lifespan indefinitely by expanding its memory to the maximum it can take and upgrading to an SSD. Or at least putting in the fastest spinning disk that will work. So unless there’s something seriously wrong with the PC, most people are better served by sinking a little money into some strategic upgrades, then using the rest of the money to buy something that allows them to do something they couldn’t do before. Maybe that’s a smartphone, or a tablet, an e-book reader, or something else.

It isn’t all about traditional desktop or even laptop computers anymore.

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