Global sales of personal computers dropped just over 7% in the first quarter of 2009 (the web page with the supporting article has disappeared since the time of writing). It’s tempting to blame this on the current state of the economy, but I think there are other things going on.
In the past, most personal computer upgrades were needed to get a more powerful processor or more memory to run the latest useful application. This reason is starting to fade. Most personal computers bought in the last couple of years are powerful enough to show videos, the most demanding application used by almost everyone.
Upgrading a PC to run the latest video game still goes on among gamers dedicated to having the latest fast-moving game, but they are a fairly small minority of PC owners. Most people are content with simpler games that run just fine on a PC that is a year or two old.
Even the widespread use of Firefox has made browsing faster and more reliable, thus reducing the need to replace one’s PC.
Another driver for PC upgrades is virus infestation. Unsophisticated PC users often have computers running at a crawl because of various unwanted programs. Not realizing what is going on, some people just replace the PC.
However, cloud computing is making it easier to deal with virus problems. Many people have their email residing out in the cloud and as long as all their important documents are lodged in an email somewhere, there is little need to perform a backup before wiping the hard drive and starting over.
All indications are that the amount of money spent per person per year on personal computers will continue to drop over time unless some new compelling application comes along. It will be hard to find something more compelling than on-demand video, but you never know.