September 3, 2010 – Way back when I first started using personal computers (think 1MB hard drive), all of us were really convinced that this device was “the future” – and that it would become as essential to home and office as the late, lamented typewriter had been.

We were also sold on the notion that as the technology advanced, the size of the devices would shrink, and to a great extent this has been true. Anyone who remembers the first “portable computers” will recall that laptops, as we now know them, have shrunk from suitcase-sized to pocket folder dimensions. Yet as I look at my relatively new Dell desktop PC, it seems to me that the box is, if anything, larger than my antiquated, 1980s PC, even if the monitor is a good deal slimmer.

Now comes a report from Cnet News that Gartner has trimmed its estimate for growth in second-half PC shipments to 15.3 percent, a drop of 2 percent from its previous forecast in May. According to the report, uncertainty in the U.S. and Western European economies could diminish results for the rest of the year.

I have no doubt that fears of a still-sluggish economy may slow down PC sales for businesses and consumers, but I also wonder if something else is at work here. I wonder if people are simply choosing to purchase smaller, less expensive devices that can still deliver the needed functionality. My evidence here is admittedly anecdotal, but more and more, I am seeing people opt for laptops or some other portable device, rather than replace or upgrade what they increasingly see as a clunky old PC box.

And that makes perfect sense. Portable devices – not to mention handheld units – save a great deal of desktop space and can, for most of us, provide the capabilities we need on a day-to-day basis. And they can do so for less money in most cases. All of us have seen enough science fiction movies to know that in the future, computers and other technological marvels will be very small and unobtrusive. It seems to me that on some level, this is what we actually expect from computer makers.

So am I saying that the desktop PC is an antiquated piece of technology? Not yet, but I believe it soon will be. After all, it took the typewriter a really long time to vanish into relative obscurity (some of us still hold on to them to “do envelopes,” etc.), and it will take a good, long time before the PC becomes fodder for the Smithsonian. Nevertheless, it seems that the trend has begun, even if the declining PC sales figures are only a temporary glitch.

What does this mean for our industry and for our enterprises? Certainly, the need for larger machines with huge processing power is likely to continue, although even those units may shrink with the advent of technologies like quantum computing.

For the average agent, adjustor, claims rep, marketing associate and many others, however, the laptop provides all that is needed to function effectively. In many cases, a handheld unit may be all that is required. If additional storage or computing power is needed, it is easy enough to link these devices to the more powerful units sitting in the air-conditioned rooms back home.

It just doesn’t make sense in this age of world-wide Internet access and device portability to remain chained to a desktop unit. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun a bit (you readers will let me know), but I think we are seeing the beginning of the end for the venerable PC.

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