PC shipments for 2013 are down 8.4 percent according to Gartner. The ongoing adoption of mobile devices by consumers and businesses is a leading factor contributing to the sharp drop in PC sales. But other elements are also at play – the increasing availability of free Wi-Fi and the rise of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies. Combined, these three factors can have a significant and continuing negative impact on PC sales for many years to come.

 

Skull PC

 

Tablets

This one’s no secret. Tablets are snatching away much of the PC’s market share. Gartner expects tablet shipments to grow 53.4 percent over 2012 levels by the end of 2013. Tablets are becoming increasingly affordable with a variety of devices setting consumers back less than $300 yet still offering decent specs and features. A Google Nexus 2nd generation tablet, for instance, costs $229.99 but comes with 2GB of RAM, 16GM memory, and a rear- and front-facing camera – specs that would have cost several hundred dollars more just a few years ago.

 

Wi-Fi

Going hand-in-hand in the rise of mobile devices, specifically tablets, is the increasing availability of free and fast Wi-Fi. Over 11,500 U.S. McDonalds locations are now equipped with free Wi-Fi as are the 7,000 Starbucks stores in the U.S. In September, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to expand free high-speed Wi-Fi availability to neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

 

Starbucks Wifi

 

Not only is accessibility improving, but speeds are getting a boost as well. Gogo Inc., a leading internet service provider that caters to airlines, announced its plans to roll out an upgraded infrastructure that promises to increase in-flight Wi-Fi speeds from 10 megabits per second to 60 megabits per second. Virgin America is expected to debut the six times faster internet service by mid-2014.

 

VDI Technologies

Perhaps a lesser-known culprit in the death of the PC is virtual desktop infrastructure. VDI is the practice of hosting a desktop OS on a remote server. Users can then access their desktop image from any location, and not just from one specific desktop. 

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How will this affect PC sales? Since resources are centralized to the server, the need for powerful PCs is reduced. Instead of having to buy new PCs every few years in order to benefit from new applications and software, IT Managers can simply roll out the new programs using VDI solutions. And when a refresh is needed, businesses can choose to deploy thin clients as opposed to more expensive desktops. “They could be alternatives to traditional PCs as computing continues moving to the cloud,” says Agam Shah of IDG News Service in New York of the improving quality of thin clients.

 

As tablets become increasingly affordable, powerful, and feature-packed, PC sales are taking a hit. Combined with the widespread accessibility to free Wi-Fi available to consumers and the adoption of VDI solutions by businesses, that hit may be significant. And though a complete wipeout of the PC market is unlikely any time soon, PC sales are expected to continue their downward trend for the next several years.

 

What do you think? Will tablets, greater accessibility to Wi-Fi, and VDI technologies kill the PC? Let us know your thoughts on the future of desktops and laptops by tweeting us @NapkinBetaBeyond.