CES 2022: The PCs Showcase Aims at Maintaining PC momentum

January 7, 2022 / Carolina Milanesi

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CES has been traditionally a sound stage for PC manufacturers to showcase what is coming to market for the first 6 to 9 months of the year ahead. However, as the show has broadened its scope and PCs lost their shine over the past few years, fighting for attention was much more difficult.

This year, however, it feels the excitement is back. Maybe the hybrid nature of the show limited some of the extra noise generated by thousands of people picking up all kinds of gadget news on the show floor, which made it easier to find the more meaningful announcements.

We can’t, of course, ignore that the PC market has seen one of the best years yet. According to IDC, PC sales in 2021 are expected to show a 13.5% year-over-year growth reaching a volume of around 350 million units, and this is despite very challenging supply chain conditions. 2020 closed at a 13.1% growth delivering the biggest annual growth seen since 2010 when the market grew 13.7%. The PC market recorded six straight years of decline in the ten years. As refreshing as the past two years have been, there are signs of a slow down in demand in parts of the consumer segment as well as education and enterprise, there are pockets of strength, like gaming, that keep overall demand higher than pre-pandemic levels.

PC manufacturers are very well aware that targeting younger users both in business and consumers is critical to their long-term success. As a result, at CES, OEMs have seen a much more focused effort to drive interest by delivering sleeker designs, addressing the needs of remote and hybrid workers, and showing commitment to bringing to market more sustainable products.

Probably the best example of appealing to a younger audience comes from Lenovo and its ThinkPad Z13 and Z16. A new take on the well-known ThinkPad brand, the Z series models, are made from recycled aluminum in gray or black with bronze or gray accents or even recycled black vegan leather on the lid. The packaging is made from 100% recyclable and compostable bamboo and sugarcane, and the AC power adapter uses 90% Post-Consumer Content (PCC). Given we are spending most of our time on video calls, Lenovo added a new feature to the iconic red TrackPoint: double-tap the TrackPoint to launch a Communication QuickMenu for quick access to standard camera and microphone settings.

The HP Elite Dragonfly G3 also focused on delivering a rich collaboration experience with audio by Bang & Olufsen and four discrete amps working together to create an immersive sound. HP also added Dynamic Voice Leveling, which automatically optimizes voice clarity even when using a mask. In addition, AI comes in to improve the experience further by delivering AI-based noise reduction 2.0.

But the nod to remote and hybrid work does not relate only to collaboration, connectivity is central to that experience. As we rely more on the cloud for our day-to-day workflows, reliable connectivity becomes indispensable. During the pandemic, the lack of fixed broadband, data caps, and congested networks highlighted the challenges many still face. Wi-Fi 6E is becoming the standard and so is support for USB4 and Thunderbolt 4. What we did not hear much talk about at CES was 5G, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. While I am a firm believer in connected PCs, the reality is that PC buyers in 2022 are very unlikely to be asking for 5G connectivity in their PCs.

Dell pushed its popular XPS 13 to a new premium price point with the XPS 13 Plus. A clean and minimalistic take on the well-known sibling, the Plus, set itself apart by delivering on performance and adding a new capacitive touch experience that allows users to switch between media and function keys easily.

As much as most PC manufacturers stuck to practical solutions that addressed specific pain points, a few models seemed to better fit the purpose of showcasing what is technologically possible rather than helpful. The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold is an excellent example of a design that catches your attention, but it is likely not to fit most people’s workflows or bank accounts. Coming in at 17.3-inch, it is “the world’s first 17.3-inch foldable OLED laptop,” according to Asus.

Hardware innovation and Windows 11 will certainly help keep demand strong, but retaining engagement will be critical long term. This is really what changed during the pandemic. PCs were upgraded because users needed them, and they wanted a better experience than their older models could ever deliver. Enriched experiences drove more consistent engagement, and while PCs might still fail to generate the kind of love we all have for smartphones, they sure have been able to create a strong dependence.

Retaining engagement will only in part be possible through hardware and operating system. Apps will also play a critical role, and so will be the relationship between the smartphone and the PC. This is where Windows cannot deliver on its own, but it needs the collaboration of Google and Android. During CES, the good news is that Android reiterated the commitment to working better together with Windows in ways that go beyond gaming. While there were no further details in the blog published by Erik Kay, VP of Multi-Device Experience, I have to believe that Android understands the importance of delivering a tight integration with Windows PCs. Why? Because Apple will continue to leverage the tight multi-device experience that it can provide across iPhone, Mac and iPad and for some users even further by including Apple Watch and AirPods. Windows and Android have the potential to offer consumers a similar tight integration while still allowing them to select best-of-breed products of their liking. The big question is whether Google and Microsoft fully see that opportunity and are prepared to make some choices that might negatively impact other parts of the business but ultimately end up limiting Apple’s move into the enterprise.

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