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Life in the post-PC age

A recent report from market research firm IDC suggests that PC sales will decline for a second year in a row and that this year, more tablets will ship than laptops. By 2015, IDC predicts that tablet shipments will outpace the PC market as a whole.

This decline can be attributed to the fact that people only replace their PCs when they break down entirely. However, Ryan Reith, program manager for IDC's Mobility Trackers, said: "For many consumers, a tablet is a simple and elegant solution for core use cases that were previously addressed by the PC." Tablets are not causing this problem, they are merely exacerbating it.

(And by the way, these crummy mobile devices need constant replacing because many are outright junk – it's a miracle if one lasts more than a year).

The real problem, though, is that today's PCs last forever and there is no reason to upgrade or replace them. Moving a lot of the processing and functionality to the cloud has added even more pressure. Even Apple has given up on upgrading the MacBook Pro. Why would anyone need anything more powerful?

The rest of the pressure on the traditional PC comes from the notebook, which is an effective desktop replacement.

So what is going to happen?

It seems we are returning to the days when PCs were only used by office workers who needed them for writing, graphics, research, and other instances where other devices would be impractical.

So now is the time to consider buying a machine at what will probably be a fire sale price from Dell, HP, or indeed some smaller vendors such as the online outfits which let you tweak and customise your machine to your heart’s content. I mention the small shops because it's these places that will suffer in the short term as the big boys dump inventory. If they survive, they will represent the future of PC makers.

In other words, except for the cheapest of Asian junk, the custom high-grade, long-lasting, state-of-the-art machines will be what you get. Because these units last probably 5 to 10 years, they will actually be worth the cost. Dell and HP will essentially be selling decorative machines for the large office, although I expect to see mostly laptops and perhaps tablets hooked to keyboards. Microsoft may actually have the right idea with its Surface tablet keyboard.

I have always been an advocate of the PC-in-every-room model, but people today are fine with using their phone to search the web and send short notes. Even email is done on the phone. Still, if you consider the phone to be a pocket PC, which I do, then the model applies.

Within a decade, those of us who still use a real PC will be like those guys with a lot of woodworking gear in their garage. Those folks, who can build an entire house by hand, are somewhat revered for their ability to properly use all the tools.

In ten years when someone looks at your computer and says "Wow, neat! What do you use that for?" then you'll know it's all over.