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Future of the PC: Top computer brands and adoption trends in the workplace

By Peter Tsai, Spiceworks

August 30, 2017

If you've been paying attention to the tech press over the last several years, you know many pundits predict mobile devices like tablets and smartphones will replace traditional laptop and desktop computers and lead to the “death of the PC.” Seeing that mobile internet use surpassed PC use for the first time in 2016, this prognostication seems to be coming true, at least in the consumer market. But what about in businesses? And can office workers actually be as productive on mobile devices as they can on PCs?

And while new PC shipments are certainly down from their peak in 2011, IDC reports in Q1 2017, global shipments of PCs increased for the first time since 2012. And in Q2 2017, the traditional PC market beat analyst expectations. So what does this news suggest about PC usage in the workplace in the years to come? 

To help answer these questions and find out more about future PC usage in professional environments, we surveyed nearly 1,000 IT pros in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom (UK) who help influence tech hardware purchase decisions.

We wanted to understand if companies will continue to invest in PCs or switch gears and spend more on mobile devices. We also evaluated which PC brands are most commonly used in the workplace and how IT pros perceive the top computer manufacturers.

Most common workplace devices: Desktops still rule… for now

In our survey, we asked IT pros to break down what percentage of employees in their organization use laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones, or 2-in-1s (e.g., hybrid laptop/tablet) as their primary work device. And surprise, surprise — it turns out desktops still rule in the workplace... and it's not even close. In fact, among organizations surveyed, an average of 60 percent of employees rely on desktops to get the job done.

In second place, laptops are used by 27 percent of workers as their primary work devices, followed by thin clients at 5 percent. And despite the hype, mobile devices, such as tablets (3 percent), smartphones (2 percent), and 2-in-1s (2 percent), are not as commonly used as primary devices in the workplace. This data suggests predictions of the “death of the PC” in the workplace are overblown and premature, at least in the US, UK and Canada.

 


 

 

Future device purchases: Laptop investments on the rise

Despite their current dominance, desktops might not be the top dog in the workplace much longer. Over the next year, overall business investment in desktops is expected to remain relatively flat, with 24 percent of organizations surveyed planning to increase PC investment, but 17 percent planning a decrease (the largest decrease among all end-user devices). In contrast, laptops are expected to see the most growth among end user devices in the workplace. According to Spiceworks survey data, 43 percent of organizations plan to increase their investments in laptops over the next year.

Many companies also expect investments in tablets to grow substantially, with 25 percent of organizations planning to increase spend. Similarly, smartphones and 2-in-1s are expected to see nearly 20 percent increases. But since fewer workers use them as their primary device to begin with, overall numbers of mobile devices won't make much of a dent in desktop dominance when compared to laptops.

 

Office workers ditching PCs for mobile devices? Don't count on it

To check whether or not smartphones or tablets will eventually replace laptops and desktops in the workplace, we asked IT pros if, and when they expect this to happen. The results show more than half of IT pros believe most office workers will not use a mobile device as their primary device in the foreseeable future, if ever.

Even respondents who think it could happen predicted a mobile-dominated workplace is at least a few years off. In other words, IT pros said we shouldn't expect mobile devices to overtake PCs as primary devices in the workplace anytime soon.

Reasons why organizations prefer PCs over mobile devices

As to why organizations are sticking with laptops and desktops instead of moving employees to mobile devices, it comes down to productivity. In prior Spiceworks research focused on the viability of mobile devices replacing PCs, the majority of respondents told us mobile devices are good for browsing the web and viewing documents, but not necessarily for other business functions.

When it comes to inputting data into online forms, or creating, editing, and storing documents, IT pros believe mobile devices are more limited than PCs. Time will tell if input methods and data storage on mobile devices improve as technology advances, but until a mobile device allows you to do almost everything you can do on a PC, smartphones and tablets will likely continue to be complementary devices used in conjunction with PCs instead of replacing them.

PC usage in organizations: Dell is the most commonly used PC provider

In our survey, we asked IT pros in the US, UK, and Canada to tell us which PC brands they use in their organizations. Among organizations surveyed, the results show 47 percent of laptops and desktops in the workplace were made by Dell, followed by HP at 21 percent, Lenovo at 14 percent, and Apple at 4 percent. Surprisingly, Microsoft-branded PCs, which are relatively new to the market, are more commonly used than those made by Acer or ASUS, with 3 percent of laptops/desktops in our survey manufactured by the Redmond, Washington, company.

That said, it should be noted we did not survey IT pros based in Asia, where Acer, ASUS, and Lenovo computers are more prevalent. Examining North America and UK data separately reveals other trends. For example, our results show Round Rock, Texas-based Dell has higher reported usage in North American organizations (49 percent in NA vs. 39 percent in the UK). The gap between Dell and its competition is slightly smaller in UK-based organizations, where 24 percent of PCs are from HP Inc. and 14 percent fall into the “other” category, indicating more diverse PC brand usage than in North America.

Where will organizations spend their PC dollars in 2018?

Now that we understand which PC vendors are most commonly found in professional environments, let’s examine how that mix might change in the future. We asked IT pros about their companies’ PC investment plans; while it appears the top-ranking vendors will stay the same in the near future, some new players are emerging.

Within the next 12 months, 25 percent of companies plan to increase their investments in Dell laptops/desktops, while 17 percent and 13 percent are planning to increase spending with HP Inc. and Lenovo, respectively.

Among the other players, the survey data shows Microsoft is expected to get a major boost: 15 percent of organizations are planning to increase investments in Microsoft PCs in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of organizations plan to send more on Apple laptops/desktops.

Factors driving PC purchase decisions: Reliability most important

Which factors do IT pros deem most important when deciding which laptop/desktop brand to buy for their organization? It turns out computer reliability is by far the most important factor with 87 percent of IT pros saying it’s very to extremely important in the evaluation process. Performance comes second at 68 percent, followed by security at 62 percent, and cost at 54 percent. Manageability (48 percent), user-friendliness (42 percent), and ease of repair (37 percent) also matter but to a lesser degree. However, attributes such as innovative features and style were considered much less important, which hints that IT departments are more concerned with helping employees get the job done and less concerned with shiny new features and cool designs.

Perceptions of PC brands: Most commonly used vendors considered most reliable

Now that we know what factors drive PC purchase decisions in organizations, let’s examine how IT pros associate these same attributes with vendors.

IT pros were asked to select one attribute they most closely associate with each PC manufacturer. It turns out when it comes to reliability, the most important attribute, IT departments put their money where their mouth is. Dell, HP Inc., and Lenovo have the highest scores for reliability. About one-third of IT pros associate Dell with reliability, while 28 percent and 23 percent, primarily associate HP Inc. and Lenovo with reliability respectively. This ranking aligns with reported PC brand usage.

Among other notable trends, the data shows Acer has the highest score for cost effectiveness, with 32 percent of IT pros saying they primarily associate Acer with this attribute. On the other hand, Apple scored the highest for style, although the attribute is considered the least important factor among IT pros.

Closing thoughts: Traditional devices maintain dominance

Contrary to the popular narrative about the “death of the PC,” IT professionals told us resoundingly that in the professional world, traditional laptops and desktops will continue to be the device of choice for years to come. While it’s true desktop PCs will likely become less prevalent in the future, perhaps giving way to laptops, usability challenges when it comes to key business tasks will prevent tablets and smartphones from taking over in the workplace.

While the consumer market might gravitate toward flashy new features and stylish devices, organizations primarily want reliable tools that empower users … without breaking the bank. And vendors that can provide PC options that fit those needs at the right price are rewarded in the marketplace.

So the next time you read an article predicting the demise of PCs, remember the consumer and business markets should be treated separately, and what’s true for one might not apply to the other. Decision makers in these two worlds are driven by different motivations, and it’s evident PCs fit the bill for business productivity needs. So for the foreseeable future, desktops and laptops will remain dominant, with mobile devices serving merely as complimentary devices to the true office workhorses.

Methodology

The survey was conducted in July 2017 and included 998 IT professionals across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom who influence the purchase decisions of end user devices at their organizations. Respondents are among the millions of IT professionals in Spiceworks and represent a variety of company sizes, including small- to-medium-sized businesses and enterprises. Respondents also come from a variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, nonprofits, education, retail, government, and finance.

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