Reboot: Home Computers

Innovations Focus on Power, Versatility & Size

Smartphones and tablet computers might push the standard home computer off the shelf, but manufacturers aren’t giving up yet. Home computers are being outfitted with new drives and choices in operating systems, and analysts say you can expect the prices of all-in-one touch-screen computers to come down.

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In 2014, the “desktop computer” seems to be hanging from a thread.

The seemingly ever-growing sales numbers and increasing functionality of smartphones and tablet computers prompted home-computer manufacturers to cut back on the number of models that they make or give up entirely. The sales figures for home computers help to paint an increasingly ominous picture. TECHnalysis Research notes that U.S. sales of home computers slipped 12 percent in 2013 and projects a drop of another 6 percent in 2014.

Still, analysts with whom Consumers Digest spoke insist that the home computer not only will endure but also will become a more powerful device.

“The desktop space, to me, is actually one of the more interesting spaces for PC in general,” says Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies, which provides analysis of the technology marketplace. “You’re going to continue to see a lot of innovation.”

Included in this change: The towers that hold the life force of your home computer will shrink to the size of a drink coaster. You’ll see more widespread adoption of different operating systems, changes to operating systems that have dominated the computer market for years and price shifts that could make a home computer more affordable than ever before.

You also will hear about higher Wi-Fi speeds—although you might wait years to notice a significant difference in performance.

FIGHTING ON. For the moment, the truth is that more families turn to mobile devices for their computing needs. According to Frank N. Magid Associates, which is a market-research consultancy, an esimated 74 percent of U.S. households had a smartphone in 2013. This caused home-computer manufacturers to “retrench or rethink,” says Stephen Baker of market-research company The NPD Group.

Part of that rethinking might include abandoning ship. In February 2014, Sony announced that it would sell its VAIO computer division. Experts with whom we spoke say they expect more consolidation in the home-computer market. Acer in November 2013 announced a worse-than-expected net operating loss, and Baker says he expects the company to reduce the number of models of home computers that it has in the marketplace.

However, Baker says home computers won’t go away. Bajarin agrees. Smartphones, tablets and notebook computers meet the simple computing needs of consumers, he says, but families still seem to want a more “communal” device that allows members to perform multiple tasks. These range from researching and writing papers to putting together movies through the power and efficiency that a smartphone or tablet simply doesn’t provide.

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Consequently, Bajarin says, you can expect more experimentation with products and new marketing that drives home the versatility of a home computer. He says he expects manufacturers to put more emphasis on how easily that a home computer can be moved around the home and used as a TV when you connect it to a set-top box.

Jay Chou of International Data Corp., which is a technology market-research company, agrees. He expects that in the coming years, all-in-one home computers, which have all of their components in the cabinet of the monitor, will expand on the TV and video-watching concepts by including monitors that have 4K resolution. This resolution, which also is called ultrahigh-definition resolution, has 3840 x 2160 pixels of resolution, which is four times higher than that of 1080p (1920 x 1080) HD resolution.

Chou also expects manufacturers to add more motion sensing and gesture control to expand on an all-in-one computer’s increasing amount of touch-screen capability.

Jennifer Colegrove, who is the president of Touch Display Research, says her company forecasts that 30 percent of all-in-one home computers will have a touch screen in 2014, and that the proportion will increase to 41 percent by 2016.

What’s better, prices of touch-screen all-in-one computers have fallen beneath the $1,000 mark. Colegrove says those prices will continue to drop as more touch-screen models enter the market.

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