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ComScore: Computer usage falls as 20% of millennials go mobile-only

A decade ago, almost all web browsing was happening on desktop and laptop computers. The explosion in smartphone popularity has rapidly changed the dynamic, and older predictions may have underestimated the impact. According to new report from comScore, computer use is dropping off quickly as mobile devices encourage new types of interaction. In fact, many younger people don’t use computers at all, instead relying entirely upon their smartphones.

The conventional wisdom a few years ago was that desktop usage (desktop meaning both “desktop” and “laptop” PCs) would level off or grow at a slower rate in the face of mobile device adoption. However, the trends aren’t following that model. The data gathered by comScore points to substantial year-over-year drops in desktop usage. In December 2015, desktop Internet use was down 9.5% compared with the previous year. In January 2016 it was down 7.6%. February and March of this year were better at 2% and 6% down, but the trend looks to be continuing.

In addition to the comScore data, The Wall Street Journal notes that it saw desktop traffic peak back in March of 2015 (567 billion total minutes of desktop web usage). Since then, the trend has been negative. At the same time, mobile use is up dramatically with more than one trillion total minutes of activity last month. comScore’s report estimates that mobile accounts for 65% of digital media time, and apps make up 56% of it. By far the most startling statistic from the comScore data is that one in five millennials (defined as being aged 18-34) don’t even use desktops anymore.

What this really points to is that a lot of casual browsing is migrating from the PC to mobile devices. It seemed at first that PCs were remaining steady, but that was probably because mobile devices simply weren’t good enough yet. Advances in hardware and software mean there are fewer times you have to put the phone away and find a “real” computer to accomplish something.

If you want access to these high-end GPUs you'll likely also need a high-end rig, like this Cipher model being shown off by Rave at Nvidia GTC 2016

It’s possible the screen in your pocket is the highest resolution display in your house, and the processor running it is probably faster than the laptop you were using a decade ago. It all adds up to a device that fits in your hand and manages most basic computing tasks with ease. For many non-technical people, that’s enough to replace a computer. We’re still a long way from smartphones and tablets being as powerful as a desktop when it comes to getting work done, but not everyone needs that kind of power.

It’s easy to draw the line between what is “mobile” and “desktop” right now, but in the future that might not be so simple. Apple is pushing the iPad and keyboard dock as a viable laptop alternative with custom tablet software. Meanwhile, Google has the Pixel C, Chrome OS, and Android apps running in the Android Runtime for Chrome. Nvidia has even made desktop gaming work on its Shield devices via GeForce Now.

It’s not over for traditional PC’s, though. Desktops and laptops remain essential in business, and it’ll be a long time before that changes. The growth of power-hungry virtual reality also means full desktop PCs with beefy video cards will remain an important part of future computing.

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