‘PC Does What?’ seems doomed to fail

A coalition of Dell, HP, Intel, Lenovo, and Microsoft are trying to figure out how to reverse the downward trend of PC sales, and what they came up with was a marketing campaign called “PC Does What?”

The problem is it’s not 1995 anymore, and it’s going to take more than a marketing campaign to change that.

The fundamental problem with selling PCs is that everyone who wants one has one–or a house full of them. So you have to figure out how to get people to replace their old one in order to sell new ones. And for a time that was easy, because people would buy a PC, and by the time they’d learned how to use it, it was outmoded, so they’d buy another one.

But the industry matured over time. If you bought a PC after 2009, chances are it still works fine unless the hard drive died in it or it got infected with malware and you don’t know someone who can clean it up. It’s hard to think of another time in recent history when you could buy a PC, keep it five years, and be as content with it as you are with, say, a household appliance. But that’s what PCs have become. I’ve replaced all of my major appliances but I’d have to look up when I did it. It’s been years, and none of them are screaming for replacement.

I’m sure all of those companies are asking what about Apple. The problem with comparing themselves to Apple is that they aren’t even in the same business anymore. Apple sells computers, but they make their money selling content. They’re still able to make money on hardware by positioning themselves at the highest end of the market, but that hardware is mostly a gateway to selling content. Controlling it tightly allows them to turn the combination of hardware and content into a lifestyle.

Today’s PC certainly has the ability to be much nicer than an old one–memory is cheap, CPUs are wicked fast, and SSDs are wicked fast. But that’s a temporary fix, because a PC bought today is likely to last the better part of a decade.

And that’s why I don’t think the “PC Does What?” campaign is going to be anything more than a temporary fix, and whether it succeeds even as that is an open question.

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2 thoughts on “‘PC Does What?’ seems doomed to fail

  • October 19, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Actually Apple’s content sales are a drop in the bucket compared to their hardware sales.

    Apple isn’t comparable because they’re playing chess while the rest of the pc industry has been playing checkers. Dell, HP, Lenovo, and the rest all tried to compete on price. Result: computers now cost 1/3 of what they used to 15 years ago, and all the PC makers are struggling to clear more than 5 or 10 bucks per PC sold.

    Apple decided back in the late 90’s that it was going to compete on customer satisfaction and customer experience. They’re the only PC maker that offers a premium experience. Premium as in a product that costs more but makes you feel special. Premium as in a case that looks and feels exceptional, premium as in customer service that people remember positively, and rave to their friends about. And premium as in an OS that people perceive as being nicer and more user friendly than Windows, and tell their friends about that, too.

    For the past 5-10 years, Apple has been reaping the benefits of that choice they made in the late 90s’ — when the rest of the PC industry loses sales, their sales go up. Other PC makers struggle to clear a profit, Apple is one of the most profitable companies in the entire world.

    • October 19, 2015 at 7:39 pm

      Alright, point taken–I looked, and content is 12% of Apple’s 2014 revenue. But their Macs account for 15% of sales, so I wasn’t wrong about the number of computers they sell. Over 50% of their revenue comes from phones. So Apple isn’t a content company, they’re a phone company. So we were both wrong.

      But the rest of what you’re saying is that Apple is selling a lifestyle.

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