As a commercial product the computer industry is over 55 years old. Today the computer industry is arguably the most important industry in the world. The computer industry and its technologies are the basis for all information technologies and accounts for over 6% of the world’s gross domestic products. As a tool the computer is a crucial element in many industries ranging from telecommunications and consumer electronics to medical research and automobiles. Computer-based products range from deciphering the human gene to exploratory and teaching toys.
The U.S. share of total computers is declining at a steady rate. In 1980 the U.S. accounted for nearly 70% of all computers-in-use and retained over half of the computers-in-use until 1989. In 2000 the U.S. share dipped to 33% of all computers-in-use and to 20% in 2010 with a further decline below 16% projected for 2016.
The U.S. computer market has matured and the vast majority of computer sales are replacement sales to upgrade and replace existing computers. In 2011 the sales of computers in the U.S. was over 95M units, but the installed base of computers will only increases by about 15M units. This is due to a replacement sales rate of about 84% of total yearly sales. The industrialized countries also have high replacement sales rates, but generally lower than the U.S.
The developing countries have much lower replacement sales rates than the industrialized countries. The result is that worldwide computer market has lots of room to grow. Total worldwide computer sales in 2011 surpassed 385M units. With a worldwide replacement sales rate of around 63%, the computers-in-use increased by 141M units in 2011.
These figures do not include embedded computers that are used to control all types of electronic and electromechanical products. Sales of embedded computers are many times higher than the numbers shown in the above table. Handheld computing devices and Smartphones are also excluded from these figures.
The next figure shows the growth of computers-in-use for the major regions of the world. The figures are in millions of units.
Figure 1.1 Computers-in-Use by Regions
N. America, which includes USA and Canada, remains the largest region through 2003. Starting in 2004 Asia-Pacific had more computers-in-use than N. America. W. Europe has been in second place, but dropped to third place in computers-in-use in 2000—after N. America and Asia-Pacific.
The next table shows the top 15 countries with the most computers-in-use and most PCs-in-use estimated for year-end 2011. Since PCs normally account for 95% or more of total computers, the two rankings are very similar. The U.S. has a large lead but China is gaining and will surpass the USA by 2016. Japan was in second place in this ranking through 2006. The U.S. surpassed 310M PCs in-use and 321M total computers in 2011.
As expected this ranking contains the large industrialized countries and a few of the countries with a large population. As a group these 15 countries dominate the computer market and account for nearly 70% of all computers-in-use in 2011.
Several countries are moving up in the rankings. China was 12th in 1995 and jumped to 3rd in 2002. Brazil was 15th in 1995 and is now in the 9th spot. India was not ranked in the Top 15 countries until 2002 when it placed in the 15th place. India will continue to move up in the rankings and was in 5th place in 2011.
The growth of computer usage in the last 50 years has been caused by a variety of factors as shown in the next table. In the first 25 years of the computer industry the unit sales were counted in thousands for mainframes and then in hundreds of thousands for minicomputers. When PCs arrived the count went to millions, to tens of millions in the mid 1980s and to hundreds of millions starting in the late 1990s and topped 1B in 2007.
By the mid-1980s the PC became the driving force for the whole computer industry, and it retained this crown for over 10 years. By the late-1990s the PC became the means to get to the Internet and the dynamics of the PC industry changed. In the last eight years the Internet has upstaged the PC industry and the needs of Internet applications have become major factors in the growth of computers-in-use. Today the Internet and the applications based on it have become the main driving force for the PC and the whole computer industry. This trend is expected to last for another decade or more as new Internet applications emerge and prosper.
Over the next 10 years the PC industry will prosper and learn to live with two new driving forces—digital consumer electronics products (often called information or web appliances) and mobile communication devices (Smartphones and multifunction cell phones). Both digital entertainment and mobile communication devices use PC-based hardware and software platform technologies. The PC industry is very competitive and has a good track record of adapting to emerging technologies and market trends. This is likely to happen again and the PC industry will embrace digital entertainment and handheld communication devices.
Handheld communication devices such as Smartphones and multifunction cell phones will augment PCs as Internet access devices in the next decade. But the growth of digital entertainment and communication devices will also create opportunities for PCs. Many digital entertainment and communication devices will be simplified PCs or application-specific computers. The infrastructure that will be required to connect and deliver services to the information/web appliances is another opportunity for PCs—especially for PC servers. The number of PC servers needed to feed the digital entertainment and communication devices will be in the millions of units as they will be proportional to the installed base of digital devices.
Another PC opportunity is the need that will develop in homes that have multiple PCs and/or digital entertainment and communication devices. A large portion of these homes will need a server that coordinates data transfers, data storage and other functions between the PCs and digital entertainment and communication devices. These home PC servers are already emerging for multi-PC households and will get a further boost from multi-digital device households. PC servers that manage entertainment content are also available for multi-PC households. PC servers that manage entertainment content are also emerging and will become important in the next decade. Such media servers are based on Windows XP or Windows 7 and are likely to be popular. The worldwide number of home PC servers will be in the tens of millions by 2015.
Inexpensive PCs designed for developing countries are getting attention and such products will be ready to make an impact in a few years. The netbook got the most attention in 2009, but are now becoming niche products as low cost tablets are emerging. By 2015 such low-cost PCs will increase the portion of families and companies that can afford a personal computer and the sales volume could be in tens of millions units per year. These low-cost PCs will be especially important in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asian countries.
Several mobile computer categories that have a form factor between Smartphones and notebook PCs are emerging. These in-between mobile computers range from netbooks, pad computers, Smartbooks and Ultrabooks. Some of these products will be based on Smartphone hardware/software platforms, but will still be PC products in terms of capabilities and market positioning. They will be used as second PCs, but it is unclear how popular they will be due to competition from other mobile devices. The netbook PC was a success story in 2009 but has since faded from importance. The Apple iPad has started a new infotainment PC pad category that is having significant impact on the PC industry and will provide much of the growth in the next five years.
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