PC sales have significantly slumped during the mobile revolution. As it turns out, for most people, all they really need is a good smartphone or a tablet for their average computing needs like connecting to the internet, reading email, catching up on the news, chatting with friends and posting to social media. Only a few years back did people had to have a laptop or desktop to do all the things mentioned. Now tablets and smartphones have taken over. To revitalize the industry for both Windows/Intel (Wintel) desktop and laptops, PC manufacturers created the PC Does What campaign showcasing what’s new in the PC world. After watching the ads, from a consumer point of view, I went from ‘okay!’ to ‘so?’
During the video game craze of the late 70s and early 80s, people bought personal computers such as the Commodore 64 and the Amiga not just to play those games, but to do more, inspired by movies like Tron and War Games. To dabble with coding through BASIC, to balance checkbooks with Lotus 123, to write with WordStar and to do taxes with TurboTax. No internet back then and the closest thing to the internet were text based bulletin boards. It was the beginning of the digital age, and early techies wanted more than just an Atari 2600. Then came the video game crash of 1983 that saturated the market with bad games and crap apps like we have today and many lost interest in those early computers.
In the 90s when the internet was at its toddler years. The internet and the world-wide-web were the new buzzwords, and we now had those colorful information-filled web pages and we had to see that dancing baby video for ourselves. The only way to enter those new-fangled colorful animated GIF-laden websites with cool blinking and mint and fuchsia text was to get a Macintosh or a PC. Laptops back then cost a fortune and tablets were non-existent, except maybe for Apple’s Newton. Apple was in a rut back then so many bought PCs. And even though Steve Jobs came back to Apple and began selling hot colorful iMacs and MacBooks, many people still bought PCs. By the end of the 90s, a large percentage of US homes had a desktop or laptop computer running Windows or OS X to surf the Internet and play Doom. The PC industry was in its heyday until the early 2000s when the iPhone and the iPad came along. When social media and games got ported to mobile devices, that was the beginning of the end of the Golden age of PCs.
Even though the acronym PC stands for personal computer, which encompasses Windows-based, Linux-based, MacOS-based desktop and laptop computers, tablets, NUCs and most smartphones, the term PC mostly refers to Windows-based computers with an Intel or AMD processor. As long as the computer was used and even customized by an individual, it was personal, no matter the form, but somewhere along the way, the Wintel platform became associated with the acronym, PC. Sales of PCs, however, began to drop as many consumers found out that they didn’t require big clunky desktops or heavy laptops to get into the internet and interact with it to get their email, socialize and even buy stuff. All they needed was Wi-Fi, a tablet or a smartphone or both. They no longer needed a computer for themselves and for every kid in the house. If they can afford a computer, then so be it, and those people comprise the consumer percentage of laptops and desktop sales. Businesses still needed PCs to crunch their numbers, to keep inventory and to edit and create content. But recent economic trials forced them to hold off on upgrades, not to mention some disasters (Windows Me, Vista, and Windows 8) on Microsoft’s OS front. Even Mac sales were cannibalized by the iPad and the iPhone, but Apple doesn’t mind, much.
This slump led many to internet articles that say that the PC concept was on life-support. It’s probably true if all people did was tweet on Twitter, lurk on Facebook, post their dinners on Instagram and watch videos on YouTube on their smartphones and tablets. But people still need their PCs and Macs to save all those photos and videos of their vacation, to print them for posterity, to take their work home, to create art, to edit videos, to write novels (good luck with that using a tablet or smartphone), to work on spreadsheets (good luck with that one too), to design buildings and machines and make blueprints, and to develop those very mobile apps that sucked out the PC bottom line. Well, businesses and many consumers still need their PCs and those articles saying that the PC is dead couldn’t be further than the truth.
But the truth is that the PC industry has hit the bottom lately (thanks Microsoft, Apple) so major PC vendors Dell, HP, Lenovo and Intel came up with a campaign called PC Does What to revitalize sales. Sales of what though? Just laptops? While laptops qualify as PCs, desktops aren’t featured in the series of ads in the campaign. Many PC veterans were hoping that some sleek desktops might be included in the campaign to promote sales since they are the ones most affected by the mobile revolution. Well, the vendors know what they’re doing probably as this could simply be the first wave of ads.
However, the ads really don’t feature the stuff that PCs can really do. The ads simply show the same apps available on tablets and smartphones like watching videos, playing games, looking at images and listening to music. The ads show how flexible and thin new laptops are and how they can easily emulate any tablet. The content can hardly compel consumers to toss their phones and tablets. It’s like saying there are new devices in town, and they’re called PCs and they do these same things that tablets can do, and they have keyboards!
There’s this ad where a hotel worker slips a thin laptop under someone’s hotel room door while he left thick newspapers in front of others. There’s this ad where a woman on the beach was given a laptop with a picture of the same horizon everyone was looking at. There’s an ad where a coach was using a laptop with a screen that does a 360 to become a tablet during gym class and an ad where a bunch of rescue workers in a helicopter were listening to music, and the guy waiting to be rescued in the middle of the ocean was doing the same. I’m actually in the market for a tablet right now to do all of that.
If the point of the ad campaign is to say that PC can do all those things and that laptops and desktops aren’t all ‘work,’ then the ad did its job. But the campaign failed to consider why consumers went mobile in the first place if that’s all PCs can do. The only ad that worked there was the one catering to PC gamers as laptops recently made inroads in that area. If you could remember the cheesy ads in the 70s, 80s and 90s where families get together around a computer or some gadget playing a game or even coding BASIC, those ads somehow worked. Those scenarios are actually working for the Raspberry Pi as parents are actually getting their kids into coding. The thing is, the ads could probably do more. A pity Microsoft wasn’t in the mix to show how a PC can be a tablet at the same time and also show people someone working on a Surface Pro who just submitted their taxes to the IRS with a large message on the screen saying Taxes Accomplished! Also like that ad for Windows holographic showing someone working on a desktop designing a motorcycle while using the Hololens. Or an ad showing someone connecting a tablet or phone to a PC, getting images and videos and creating a home movie which is later played on a large TV with the laptop connected to it. How about an ad, again with a desktop or laptop showing a gamer connecting an Oculus Rift to play a VR game? PC Does What indeed.
We’re not demolishing the ad team here, but we’re saying they could do better with a few suggestions. These could just be the first wave of ads. After all, we all want the same thing; to revitalize the PC industry. To get people back indoors so they won’t get run over by a speeding car while browsing their phones. But seriously, for people to be more flexible and keep PCs around for much longer, Macs, Chromebooks and Linux boxes included.