PC Industry Excited Over Old, Boring All-In-One PCs

Last Updated Nov 3, 2009 7:28 AM EST

Is the moon full? Have the planets aligned? Are we once again seeing the rebirth of that tech innovation, the Deflated Megaproduct? You've seen it before. In the 1980s, it was Office Automation that was going to drive all paper from business. In the early 90s, Pen Computing would be the new design for user interfaces, as we'd all drop keyboards to rush for styli. And with Microsoft in full Windows 7.0 swing, hardware manufacturers and some analysts have apparently come up with the Next New Old Thing: all-in-one PCs.

There's nothing new about this type of design that shoves all the computing innards into the monitor so you eliminate the box from under the desk. So far, Dell, Sony, Lenovo, and HP have their versions. The product is even going cross-category, as Viewsonic also has one. But ... why?

It's not as though the form factor is new. Apple came out with the original iMac, though in a chunky box because it used a cathode-ray tube rather than an LCD screen, back in the 90s. And if memory serves, the Digital Equipment Rainbow from the early 80s was an all-in-one. Other than Apple's version, I've yet to see it truly take off. So what's supposed to be making the difference?

According to a DisplaySearch press release, touch screens and lower entry price points will make all the difference.

Many of the current crop of AIOs began as low-priced Intel Atom-based nettop PCs, in the hope that they could reach new entry level price points for desktop configurations just as mini-notes (netbooks) did for portable PCs. However, the LCD panel shortage during the first three quarters of 2009 drove desktop LCD panel prices up significantly, and developers recognized that a $399 price point was not possible for mass-market products in 2009. Development efforts were shifted from simple, low-priced AIOs toward products that take advantage of new technologies integrated into the operating system, shifting attention to ease-of-use at an appropriate price point. These new AIOs heavily leverage multi-touch capabilities integrated into Microsoft Windows 7 operating system, for example.
Sure, sure -- and here's the graph from DisplaySearch showing unit shipments:

Who is the major vendor by far in this area? Apple. The real drive of all-in-ones is aesthetics. And that's a category that the Maker of Macs largely has snapped up. Vendors of Windows machines are, I suspect, simply grasping at anything that might appear to be good news and promise something other than more economic agony.

Image via Flickr user The Shopping Sherpa, CC 2.0.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.