I know that there are endless articles about the impending doom of the desktop and how sales of desktops, laptops, have seen massive declines since about 2010. It is true to an extent, motherboards, desktops, and laptops do not sell as well as they used to. Every quarter, you can see companies like Gartner post their reports about how desktop sales have declined compared with the last quarter. What isn’t true though is that the desktop has been rendered obsolete.
Recently, as I described in my previous post, my desktop’s motherboard died on me. I have gone ahead and bought a replacement, while sending the previous one back to the manufacturer for warranty. This is what I ended up purchasing a 5820K, a used MSI X99A XPower, and some on sale 32GB of GSkill Trident Z RAM, which I will run in Quad Channel (4 sticks of 8 GB) on this platform. I will use the spare motherboard that I get back as a NAS someday for a separate project.
What I found fascinating about this experience was being without a desktop for a while and relying purely on a mobile phone. I’ve firmly come to the conclusion that the desktop is here to stay for a while. I wanted to share some thoughts with you while my memory was fresh.
Typing is not as good as on the desktop
The first thing I noticed was that although I have a decent word-per-minute on my phone, particularly with Swiftkey, it doesn’t replace what typing speeds I can get on my desktop. Intuitively, we all know this, but when you go without a desktop for a while outside of work, it becomes far more debilitating to content creation.
Auto-correct is a mixed bag. Sometimes auto-correct can hinder as much as it can help for typing certain terms, particularly if you are trying to type something that is technical that has special terms. Autocorrect on mobile phones and people’s names (particularly non-Western sounding names) is an exercise in frustration. You often find yourself going back. To an extent we know this, after all, everyone types on their phone in a similar manner.
Subjectively, one thing that I noticed is that I love to write on my desktop. The mechanical keyboard just gives a satisfying noise (particularly with MX Blues or if you use Topre switches) that is hard to replicate elsewhere. That is not the case for extended typing sessions on a mobile phone. There isn’t that satisfying noise, since it is your fingers just tapping the phone’s Gorilla Glass and with much less precision than what you would get on a desktop.
The other thing that I really regret is that there are no top-end slider type phones. A Note 4 like phone that was more durable, with better quality music, and a keyboard slider for rapid typing would be my dream phone. Ideally this would be the traditional Blackberry Keyboard. I like the direction they are going though with the Blackberry Priv. The physical keyboard, although it does add thickness, provides some physical feedback that is not possible right now with an on-screen keyboard.
I remember that my first Android mobile phone, which I used as a PMP (since I could not get data in Canada), the Samsung Epic 4G (a Galaxy i9000 variant with a keyboard). Since then, unfortunately, the trend has disappeared, particularly with the decline of BlackBerry.
Web browsing is just that much better
Sure, everywhere, you see mobile sites. Sure, my phone, my Galaxy Note 4, and my desktop, a 27″ IPS display, both have the same 2560 x 1440 resolution. Yet, in the end, working on a desktop is just that much better than working on a mobile phone. There just isn’t as much information being put on a mobile website and the interface is unwieldy even on websites that were very well designed for mobile.
The reason is because your fingers are like sausages. They are very imprecise compared to the mouse and keyboard. The S-Pen (pictured above) can somewhat help with this, but it’s not nearly as good as with a normal desktop. The other problem is that I am currently running an Android Open Source Project (AOSP) based ROM called Dirty Unicorns (great ROM by the way), which makes much of the S-Pen function simply impossible.
When a phone is your only device, you will be grateful for a Phablet
I find it ironic that people complain about a little large size in their pockets. I actually want a 6-7″ phone now with a thin bezel after experiencing first hand what it is like to be with just a phone.
That extra screen size proved invaluable to me and for day to day browsing when I am on the bus or am away from my desktop and need to access the Internet. You very quickly adjust to the phablet size being the norm. I tried going back to a “normal” sized screen a while back and it proved extremely difficult to adjust to a smaller screen.
Screen real estate is precious and I would argue that the trend of mobile phones becoming larger in size was a good thing. There is still some room for a bit more expansion, perhaps to 6-7″ if the bezels are shrunk and then we reach the point where we cannot get any larger because it will not fit in people’s pockets (certainly not with a case – I currently use the Otterbox Defender).
Tablets are actually declining as well
The endless calls for the death of the desktop by tablets seems over-exaggerated. Sure, desktop sales keep dropping, but that is because existing desktops are good enough and they are often only upgraded when parts (most frequently the power supply or hard drive, followed by the motherboard) dies.
What of the decline of desktop sales? Even the much vaunted tablets that were supposed to replace desktops and laptops for content consumption are in decline, with Apple showing a 24.8% year over year decline in from Q4 2014 to Q4 2015 in iPad shipments. I suspect that the rise of the iPad Pro may be a move to desperately try to stem the rate of the decline.
Actually, the trajectory of phone sales is likely to soon follow the same. By 2015, Samsung’s mobile division (I will emphasize mobile since Samsung is a huge and very diversified company) had begun a decline that has some interesting parallels to the decline of desktop PCs. I suspect that soon, we will see a market dominated by lots of low margin competitors like the desktop and laptop sector. I doubt that a new model of Galaxy could reverse this long term trend, even if they do manage to break the trend in the short-term. Even Apple’s iPhone I think will eventually peak and decline.
Conclusion: A phone may be a good enough solution on the go, but desktop has to stay
My short (and involuntary foray) into relying on purely a mobile device has convinced me that desktops are here to stay. They will have to stay because of content creation, because browsing is a more pleasant Typing on a good quality mechanical keyboard with a large screen is just a more pleasant experience than typing on a mobile phone.
The inherent other advantages of the desktop remain. I have not even begun to address other concerns, such as desktops being more upgradeable and repairable than mobile devices. I will also note that although mobile devices have gotten a lot more powerful, the desktop still remains the king. There’s just no way to make a 300 Watt+ TDP computer chip in a mobile device.
When you go without a desktop for a short period then back, you very quickly realize the advantages. Sure it is not mobile, but there are some pretty big advantages that assure that it will be here to stay for some time.