Laptops haven’t lost their lustre yet

Though smart devices have become the focus of computing today, the market for laptops and PCs isn’t dead yet.

Most technology writers are guilty of focusing too much on smartphones and overlooking the rest of the computing devices in the process. If you read some tech blogs and magazines, you would be forgiven for believing that no one buys laptops any more. In fact, that is far from the truth.

There are millions of desktops and laptops still being sold, though the numbers are declining gradually. While the PC-makers are waiting for that big boom to happen in countries such as India where computer penetration is very low, a lot of first-time buyers in markets such as ours are picking up a smartphone as their first, and often only, computing device. But there is still a large market for PCs, especially in Asia. According to research firm IDC, at 26.6 million units, the Asia-Pacific (ex-Japan) PC market grew 8% compared to the last quarter, though it declined 5% year-on-year in Q3-2014. This was better than forecasts because the election results in India seem to have pushed up retail walk-ins, the research firm said.

India still has among the lowest PC penetrations in the world. If price was a factor for many people to adopt computing here, affordable smartphones and tablets are taking the internet and some amount of computing to the common man. I say “some amount” because a lot of stuff still can’t be done on smart devices. Let’s take the simple example of working on multiple spreadsheets, or even word documents. The task is almost impossible on a smartphone, no matter what the screen size might be, and though achievable, it still remains difficult to carry out on a tablet. Another example is editing and resizing a photo taken from a DSLR; this will stump most affordable tablets in the market. This is where an affordable laptop can be considered valuable.

I recently reviewed an Acer laptop that cost just over R21,000, but gave you a large 15-inch screen, optical drive and a reasonably powered processor. No, it does not have a top-draw Intel Core i3 or i5 processor, but the Intel Celeron that it runs on is good with most tasks and consumes less power. And Acer is not the only company to offer a good laptop in this price bracket. Most of these new breed of really affordable laptops are powered by new low-voltage Pentium or Celeron processors from Intel, or the more affordable AMD processors.

Many first-time computer-buyers still opt for these laptops instead of the smaller 2-in-1 hybrids despite the lure of mobility and, of course, the touchscreen. The 2-in-1 convertible is surely getting better at productivity, but it is still behind what an old trusted laptop offers in terms of functionality. However, what the 2-in-1 gives the consumer is the luxury of choice, something that was not available at this price point earlier. Now, for R20,000, you can decide what kind of a computing device you want—a small, mobile tablet-based convertible device or a large laptop that lets you do everything while compromising a bit on the processing power.

For many, this is a tough decision to make. The best way to get over the problem is to figure out what kind of a user you are. For those who don’t need to do a lot of creative stuff, the 2-in-1 might prove a better option, while for others the laptop makes more sense.

It is a good thing that even at lower price points you now get the Windows OS. Earlier, at a lower price point, you would have been left with a Linux OS that fed the proliferation of pirated software in India. Plus, you now have free open source alternatives for most good, but expensive, software. For college students and young business executives, this mix might prove to be the first steps towards a successful career. Entering the world of computers has never been this easy.


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First published on: 28-10-2014 at 13:54 IST