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Design innovation: The PC's secret weapon in the war for relevance

As tablets gobble up low-end sales, PC makers are turning to increasingly innovative designs to (hopefully) spur high-end demand.

By Jared Newman, PC World
April 26, 2013 12:56 PM ET

PC World - As laptop and desktop sales plummet by record amounts, some PC manufacturers are wading out of their comfort zones in hopes of breathing life back into the market.

[HISTORY: Evolution of the PC]

Two prominent examples have reared their heads recently. On the Wednesday of last week, Toshiba, a manufacturer perhaps best known for midrange PCs at competitive prices, took a swing at the ultrapremium market with the Kirabook, a thin and light laptop with an ultrahigh-resolution display on a par with Apple's Retina-packing MacBook Pros. And just one day earlier, HP placed a big bet on futuristic motion controls, announcing that it will bundle Leap Motion controllers with select PCs, and will embed the technology directly into future devices.

Other PC makers are trying their own experiments. Acer, for one, has teased about a "unique notebook" that may be able to convert into a desktop with a raised touchscreen. And Asus has launched a desktop that transmogrifies into a gigantic detachable Android tablet, while Lenovo is preparing a tabletop touchscreen PC designed with digital board games in mind.

These are early signs of a sea change among PC makers, companies that for years subsisted on selling unremarkable products--essentially, spec lists and price tags--with no major distinguishing features. That strategy no longer works in the age of tablets.

What we're witnessing now is an attempt to adapt.

Why humdrum laptops won't fly anymore

PC makers are being forced to experiment because the traditional laptop and desktop markets are drying up. It's not just unit sales that are in decline, it's revenues as well. HP, for instance, saw its PC revenues fallA 8 percent last quarter, and Toshiba saw a 16 percent PC sales decline in its 2012 fiscal year due to falling demand in the United States.

But don't blame Windows 8 alone for the PC industry's woes. The reality is that PC sales were on the decline before Microsoft's operating system went on sale, largely because tablets have tweaked people's purchasing decisions.

As Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa noted in January, most households no longer feel the need to have one laptop or desktop for everyone. Instead, people are buying tablets for consumption uses, and hanging onto one or two household PCs for productivity. Computers, in that sense, have become like microwaves. Users replace them only when absolutely necessary.

"The PC's not going to be an everyday device for most consumers," Kitagawa said in an interview. "Tablets will probably take that position."

As a result, PC makers are changing their focus. Instead of trying to sell lots of cheap computers, they're turning more attention to premium PCs, designed to attract shoppers who want a product built to last.

Toshiba's Kirabook and Acer's upcoming laptop-desktop crossover are examples of that trend, Kitagawa said. But selling on these new premium brands won't be easy. Acer, for example, cemented its reputation for dirt-cheap laptops in the netbook era. That may explain why the company is using a Star Trek tie-in to promote its next premium PC.

Originally published on Click here to read the original story.

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