7 Ways to Reboot the Crashing PC Market

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The smart money says that laptops and desktops are dead, replaced by tablets and smartphones. According to a new report from analyst firm IDC, Global PC shipments were 13.9 percent lower in Q1 of 2013 than during the same period last year, the largest decline ever. But handheld devices aren’t cannibalizing PC sales, older PCs are.

If you have a working 3- or 4-year-old PC, you have few reasons to upgrade and one really big reason to stand pat: the new Windows 8 operating system that makes it harder to get things done. While laptops have virtually stood still (or even gotten worse), tablets and phones have raced forward with a host of compelling new features in 2013 that you couldn’t get in 2012. If PC vendors want to get people excited about their products again, they need to step up their game in these seven ways.

Fix or Dump Windows 8

Users still need PCs and always will because their larger screens, better keyboards and faster processors make them infinitely better at multitasking and productivity tasks than tablets. By burying the multi-window desktop in favor of full-screen apps with low- information density, Windows 8 turns your PC into a unitasker. You can actually get a better multitasking experience view with the Dual View feature on Samsung’s Galaxy 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II, which lets you split the screen evenly between two apps, than with Windows’ new Modern UI, which gives you just one full screen app plus a sliver of a second.

PC OEMs should either start selling more new computers with Windows 7 on them or configure Windows 8 to boot straight to the desktop and run a third-party Start menu replacement. Microsoft could also help by improving its interface to make it more multitasking friendly than Windows 7 rather than less.

More: 5 Windows 8 Apps to Bring Back the Start Menu

Improve Battery Life

That sound you hear is the beep of a laptop shutting itself down because it ran out of juice. Between February 2012 and February 2013, the average battery life for an ultraportable notebook we tested at LAPTOP dropped from 6 hours and 39 minutes to 5 hours and 52 minutes. That’s not progress.

In their rush to slim down their notebooks and add touch screens to them, vendors seem to have forgotten about battery life. Unfortunately, users haven’t forgotten what it’s like to stay chained to an outlet or run out of power halfway through the day. The answer to these problems is simple: use higher capacity batteries and lower-power parts. Intel says its upcoming Haswell platform should consume a lot less juice, but we don’t know how much impact that will have on battery life overall. The average 13-inch or smaller notebook should last more than 8 hours, not under 6 hours, on a charge.

More: 7 Worst Battery Life-Guzzling Gadgets

Up the Resolution, Screen Quality

Screen quality matters. So does screen real estate. That’s why tablet and phone makers keep improving the resolution on their displays. But while a new $399 tablet like the Google Nexus 10 has a higher-than-HD 2560 x 1600 resolution, most laptops are stuck on the same lame 1366 x 768 panels they used back in 2009 and most with 1600 x 900 or 1920 x 1080 displays cost an arm and a leg.

If Samsung, HTC and LG can all pack 1080p displays onto their smartphones without jacking up the price, notebook vendors should be able to provide the same resolution on a 13-inch screen for under $600. It’s also lame that the typical notebook screen is washed out, dull and dim. If a tiny device with long battery life can have a vibrant screen that measures 400 lux on our light meter, there’s no excuse for the average notebook to offer half the intensity with a heavy dose of backlight bleed and whitewashing.

More: Top 10 Ultrabooks

Lower the Prices

Despite hardware vendors’ fantasies about selling $1,200 Ultrabooks to everyone, the average PC notebook still sells for just over $500. There’s no question that some consumers will pay a premium price for a premium product, but the delta between a “great” laptop and a “just good enough” budget notebook shouldn’t be this wide.

If $500 buys you a 15-inch notebook with a Core i5 CPU and a 500GB hard drive, then it should cost $600 or $700 to get a 14-incher with an SSD. However, if you want a really light laptop or one with an SSD built in, you’ll be paying through the nose or, more likely, giving up and sticking with your old computer for another year.

More: Top 6 Laptops Under $500

Preload Powerful Software

The leading mobile devices come preloaded with plenty of manufacturer exclusive apps, but Windows PCs just come loaded down with crapware rather than useful apps. PC vendors should learn from Samsung, which builds a ton of powerful software into its mobile devices, with functions ranging from the note-taking S Note to the innovative Galaxy Beam to neat camera features like Share Shot.

OEMs should not only work on supplying their own software titles, but they should license and preload key features that users need, like an office suite, photo- and video-editing software and a really good email client. Microsoft could help here by making it cost effective for OEMs to preload a non-trial version of Office. If not, there are plenty of other software publishers. The selling point for consumers: pay one price for your notebook and get all the functionality you need, right out of the box.

More: 8 Worst Windows 8 Annoyances and How to Fix Them

Focus on Build Quality

While the rest of the PC industry faltered in Q1, both Lenovo and ASUS increased their U.S. sales. It’s no accident that the two vendors most known for innovative, high-quality hardware are the ones who are succeeding.

Lenovo has long been known for its impressive, tactile keyboards and durable chassis. The Chinese company also isn’t afraid to take a risk and build something completely new and exciting like the IdeaPad Yoga, which is the first notebook with a screen that bends back 360 degrees. ASUS has even more original designs, from the dual-screened Taichi to the ASUS Zenbook UX31A and its gorgeous 1080p display.

Companies that do nothing more than churn out gray hubs of molten plastic with flexy keyboards and washed out screens are the ones who are losing. Why buy another cheap plastic computer to replace your 2010-era cheap plastic computer?

More: Introducing the Windows 8 Workout Video!

Utilize All That Processing Power

The PC’s greatest secret weapon is hiding in plain sight, right under the sticker that says “Intel” or “AMD” inside. Even a budget notebook has more raw processing power available than a high-end phone.

However, few apps take advantage of all that extra performance. Where Windows Vista pushed the hardware envelope with an Aero interface that required faster components than many users had, Windows 8 and all of its apps shoot for the lowest common denominator.

PC OEMs need to work with Microsoft and other software publishers to build more must-have apps that require or at least take advantage of newer processors. As it stands, most users don’t see a reason to upgrade from a first-gen Core i3 to a third-gen Core i7.

More: 6 Fixes to Make the Chromebook Pixel Worth Buying

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • Marcus Rhodes Says:

    ... FIX THE FREAKING KEYBOARDS!! They need to be backlit, sculpted (No more chicklets!), and have dedicated, FULL-SIZE navigation keys, not those double-mapped and/or micro-sd-card-sized cursor keys. There's a reason Apple doesn't completely dominate the laptop market. We hate their keyboards! But if PC laptop keyboards are all going to mimic Apple's abysmal products, why not switch?

  • Hints Says:

    IMHO manufacturers should quit the consumer market, which will be destroyed by tablets anyway, and concentrate to professional laptops with high quality machines.

    ‘I want a Macbook Pro that runs Windows, and I want it for $500-$700.’
    No. As a professional developer I'd spend 2k for a MBP that runs any OS I like (I'd go with a Linux distribution) and can be upgraded witj more RAM, more disc, had a replaceable battery, 3-buttons touchpad, quiet, not too wide, a 16:10 screen (4:3 would be best). But it should be better than a MBP. Pricing it at the same level is not enough.

  • MDJMDJ Says:

    This is a crazy article that's says better hardware at a cheaper price and like Iyan says with no piratical relation to power consumption.

    The PC market is falling because for a period of time people began replacing things in there lives with PCs they were there TVs, game consoles music players and these functions required substantial computing power. Now these functions can largely be done by other computing machines phones, set top boxes and tablets. this has extended the upgrade cycle on laptops and desktops.

    People are replacing not upgrading. There are two solutions to this "upgrade for style" and iphone like model that uses trends to cause a fast upgrade cycle or the introduction of new tech. for this to work the tech has to add a new feature not improve on a existing one. SDDs will only cause upgrades for people that want performance not the average consumer

  • Fiskar Says:

    The article forgets the most important hardware that manufacturers need to add into their product, SSD as standard. Then I will buy and upgrade (when windows 8 is sorted out). That and a touchscreen for web browsing on the laptop as standard.

  • Iyan Sommerset Says:

    Wait, lemme get this straight...first you want extended battery life. Then you want to use more electricity by taxing the CPU (high cpu-usage apps)and GPU (higher resolution)? Make up your mind!

  • Jason Says:

    I can't really disagree with anything here, but it kind of sounds like 'I want a Macbook Pro that runs Windows, and I want it for $500-$700.' This is actually a constant frustration with me when it comes to this magazine. It's incredibly difficult to get a good read on how good a budget-mid-range laptop is, because the reviewers don't seem to take value into consideration. For instance, whenever I read about screen brightness for a 4 lb or less laptop, I almost always see it in the range of 120-180 lux range in that price range, and yet the reviewers insist on saying that the average for the category is somewhere around the 250 range. I've read more than enough reviews to realize that this 'category' is considering models well outside of the price range. So the review of any budget laptop ends up sounding more like an extended whine about it not being a $500 MBP. Articles like this are basically an extension of that. It really just reads like a report from Captain Obvious. Sure we'd all love all of this stuff for $500, but let's be real. By the time most of this stuff is available for $500, you guys will want something better. If you want it now, then it costs more. It always has. Since the average PC purchase is for a machine around $500, I'd really prefer to read something that realistically talks about what a manufacturer can do to improve a $500 machine now without making it into a tablet, and yes that would include talking about how much power the average user really needs, where sacrifices can be made, and how the market is shifting to put emphasis on different elements of the machines.

  • Bobby Says:

    My experience does not validate the assertion that Windows 8 gets in the way of productivity. It works great and is easy and fun to use.

  • LinuxMan Says:

    I also agree with all the points stated.
    Although it may fall under "build quality", I would like to mention that overall laptop designs are plain boring and mostly using black shiny plastics. How about some new form, different material or color scheme, etc.
    Besides Apple's MacBooks, Asus's Zenbooks, Samsung's Series 9 and 7 and maybe Acer's S7, there is hardly anything there beyond black or gray plastic blob!

  • Owen Says:

    I agree with all points made here.Particularly, I applaud that you actually suggested improving the new start menu instead of just tossing it out all together. I see it as an interesting play ground, but it's definitely out of place the way it is now. ModernMix and Start8 define it properly

    As for the other points, I completely agree. Only problem is they will not be (probably) implemented. I want to stay optimistic, but these kinds of articles always sound great and make sense to us, but for whatever reason "business" sense and those in charge see things very very differently.

  • Boopoo Says:

    I'll second the call for higher res screens. It's ridiculous a tiny tablet can beat a laptop or HEY A DESKTOP in resolution.

    You also forgot number 8: If Laptop review site wants people to read their articles they'll format them so the entire article is available on a single page not forcing me to click 10 times for tiny bites of information. Doubtless this idiocy is a direct result of a desire to advertise... or I assume so, but these days many of us are using browser ad ons like ad block and ghostery so we don't see any of that crap.

  • mirekk Says:

    Can't say no to that!