PC sales growth is flat because people keep their computers longer

PC sales growth is flat because people keep their computers longer

Today many of us replace our phones when a new model comes out. In the past this has been because the new model phones do a heck of a lot more than the old model phones did. This trend is slowing though, and don’t be surprised if people start hanging on to their phones because they’ve become “good enough”.

To an extent the same thing has happened with computers. A decade and a half ago, a laptop computer that was a few years old was a relic that would have trouble running current software. Today, a laptop that’s a few years old runs current software without a problem.

As computers have become “fast enough” to be fairly future proof, our reason for replacing them has gone from “not capable of running current software” to “these components have worn out and don’t work anymore”.

At the start of April, I organized for my father to get a new laptop for work e-mail and web surfing. Up until April he’d been using his 7 year old desktop running Windows XP to perform those tasks and to host the CAD program he uses for his Architecture business.

He still uses the 7 year old desktop computer running Windows XP with the CAD program to design houses and buildings. The only difference is that in light of XP’s end of support by Microsoft, it’s been unplugged from the Internet. Which is why he got the new laptop.

Some might ask: “Why he doesn’t use his CAD program on the new laptop?” The reality is that he’s using a bit of software over a decade old that won’t run on Vista or anything newer (his laptop is running Windows 8.1). His 7 year old computer works. He backs up his data. He knows at some point the hardware will fail and when it does, that’s when he’ll move platforms.

But until that hardware fails, he’s happy using it because it does what he needs it to do.

I used to think that laptops had a working life of about 3 years. Today I have several laptops in the house that are 5 years old. I’ve had to replace the batteries on them (which these days is straightforward as many sites sell batteries even for laptops that were released in 2009). On one or two I’ve switched out the hard drive for an SSD. The laptops that I’ve finally retired were the ones that would no longer boot and they were both in excess of 7 years old.

The point I’m attempting to make here is that when you hear analysts breathlessly mention that PC sales are slowing, realize that (a) the market is pretty saturated and it isn’t as though people are buying their first PCs like they were in the 90’s and early 00’s and that (b) people are keeping their computers as long as they keep their cars. They aren’t swapping for a new model every year, they are instead happy to stick with what they’ve got until it fails and they need a new one.

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