It's cool to dump on the desktop and declare the tablet the computing device of the future. But there are two wrong ideas there. First, the desktop market says (in a Monty Python voice), “I'm not dead yet.” Second, the device that takes over will be the smartphone, not the tablet, but that won't happen soon.
Most professionals will need a desktop for the long haul. They’re the pickup trucks of the personal computing world. Go to a construction site, and look at the parking lot: Do you see Ferraris and Porsches? No, you see trucks. Real work needs real tools, and that means desktops.
Take video, for example. Professional video production requires a big, sharp display. Video editors need a massive amount of local storage and RAM because network latency and subpar video rendering can stifle productivity.
This highlights a critical advantage that a desktop has in real-work scenarios: speed and expandability. High-powered CPUs are too hot for notebooks and tablets. But in a desktop, they can be cooled by as many fans as needed (or even water systems). Add-in video boards support high resolutions and multiple monitors, and empty RAM slots can be filled as needed, in just minutes, with memory far less expensive than for notebooks and tablets. USB ports for external storage and video camera connections abound, and more USB 3.0 ports can be added in no time.
Tablets are cool, and smartphones are handy for work on the go. But the videos, magazines, books, movies, TV shows and music you consume with your mobile device are almost certainly made on desktop machines. You consume on a tablet or smartphone, but you create on a desktop.
Tablets, especially convertible ultrabooks with touch screens, may take a bite out of the notebook market, but they will not become more than 16.5 percent of the “Smart Connected Device” market by 2017, according to research firm IDC. In September, IDC predicted tablet sales of almost 407 million units by 2017, which is almost triple the number of desktops predicted to sell (123 million) in the same time period. (In December, that number was revised downward, to just over 386 million.) But tablets will sell less than a third as many units as smartphones, predicted to be 70.5 percent of the market and selling almost 1,734 million units.
Smartphones in 2017 will be in every pocket, but people doing work today and in 2017 will still need real keyboards, large screens, flexibility and processing power. That means desktops. Accountants need keyboards for data entry, big screens for big spreadsheets, and power to crunch those spreadsheets into graphs for management. Programmers need big screens and compilation power, even when writing smartphone apps.
One day, your smartphone will be tied to your personal supercomputer in the cloud, file transfers won't matter because everything will go to your personal cloud automatically, and your smartphone will wirelessly beam high-resolution images to your wall-sized, 3D, organic light-emitting diode TV. But that future is a ways off. Until then, people doing real work will need a desktop.