IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

What's Hot in Desktops

New form factors and enhanced capabilities might breathe some life into your PC business. By Erik Sherman

Read too much of the tech press and you might think that not only is the PC business going to die, but that it has already done so: wake held, body buried, move along, nothing left to see. And there's something to that view. When it comes to big growth in technology, mobile is where it's at, whether in smartphones, tablets, or ultrathin notebooks.

Don't mistakenly toss that baby out with the bathwater, however. If pundit pronouncements of “It's dead, Jim” were automatically true, mainframes and COBOL would be history, and yet neither have gone. The important thing is not what everyone wants, but what your customers need. And such new form factors as powerful all-in-ones and ultra-minis are getting attention from the SMB market. So understand their motivations, learn the sometimes hidden benefits, and you could add a boost to your desktop revenue stream.

From one viewpoint, desktop sales are hurting. According to market researcher IDC, 2012 unit sales of 148 million were down by 4.1 percent compared with 154 million in 2011, which was down from 157 million in 2010. However, the problem is accelerating. Fourth quarter sales in 2012 were down 7 percent year over year. That includes holiday sales, a traditionally strong period.

“There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” says Bob O'Donnell, IDC program vice president, clients and displays. “It's a tough time to sell desktops.”

The overall market pressures are splitting what used to be a continuum of product ranges and prices, particularly on the retail side. “For the most part it's high or low on the price spectrum,” says Gap Intelligence analyst Adam Gajo. Vendors have either competed on price - Gajo says that the cheapest desktop he's seen is less than $300 - or are trying to promote large screens with touch capability.

What's a VAR or integrator to do? Remember that customers still largely need desktops, and then introduce the most innovative form factors available that can help drive sales.

Consumers may have made a significant jump to mobile, but few companies can shift everyone to tablets and cloud computing. “There are multiple scenarios where there are still people sitting behind a desk being productive, not carrying a mobile device. Or if they are carrying a mobile device, they're not supported,” says Chris Frey, vice president of sales for North American channels at Lenovo, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“I think a lot of it comes down to cost,” says Chris Wise, CEO of Waukesha, Wis.-based VAR TechSquad. “You can get a full-blown PC for a very affordable number, versus if you go with the thin client. Why spend $500 on a thin client if you can spend $600 or $700 on a PC and you don't need a multiple server environment to support it?”

But there is no reason people at a desk necessarily need the same decades-old tower form. “Towers have been around for upgrade cards and fans,” O'Donnell says. But most of the functions once relegated to plug-in cards have been integrated onto the motherboard. Even graphics have and are adequate for most uses. Furthermore, cooling has greatly improved over the years. Memory is cheap, so machines are more likely to come with reasonable amounts of RAM, reducing the need to add more later on.

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