This is a discussion to the Walt Mossberg piece from a few days ago where he reviewed Lenovo's new $150 Ideapad 100S. In the piece, Mossberg argues that the $500 - $700 price range that the majority of Windows computers are currently sold at will start to hollow out, eventually diverging into $100 - $300 and the $1000+ ranges. This is due to the most modern hardware (powered by Intel's Atom and integrated graphics) having at last become capable of not only smoothly running all contemporary applications (a fundamental difference from the netbooks of yesteryear), but are quickly becoming capable of smoothly meeting our future needs, like H.265 decoding in ultra-high definition and being able to output that fully decoded file to a television or monitor. That kind of prowess doesn't just limit itself to Chrome and video playback, either. It makes multi-tasking feasible (it's now only limited by the amount of RAM supportable by the SoC). It also makes gaming and editing feasible (so long as your temper your expectations, but being able to run full PC games that are only a year or two old is mighty impressive. The low end obviously isn't the realm where CAD users dare to tread (again, limited by RAM - for now), but those users are going to buy towers and mobile workstations anyway, which are almost always in that $1000+ range.
So what, really, is left for the $500 - $700 range to differentiate itself with? After all, if all modern computers can smoothly run Windows and all modern applications and use cases, then what need is there to spend more money? My educated guess is that companies will focus on longevity, including more resilient materials and more internal and external ports. The internal ports are really the key differentiator here. As we've seen low-end machines are now completely soldered boards, so a board that allows upgrades to the wireless card, storage, RAM, and CPU will be welcomed by power users. However, the size of this market should not be overestimated. Those same power users could be equally enticed by the miniaturization trends occurring in the desktop space, with the same of greater power being offered in a smaller volume. As such, I do see the middle space that most OEMs occupying being hollowed out but not eliminated entirely.
And is this really a bad thing at all? If computers really have reached the point that even the low-end stuff can accomplish the needs of the vast majority of users (even with lower quality materials and construction), then why not let the market run its course? The days of chasing more and more performance for casual computing is all but over, and anyone who wants to embrace the VR future will need a $1000+ machine anyway.
So what do you think? Is Walt correct, and we're on the cusp of a big PC industry shake-up?