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Desktop and Workstation Computers In Decline—Says Latest Industry Report

New data in Worldwide CAD Trends 2016 Survey, by Business Advantage, may suggest future directions for multi-device and multi-platform makers like Apple. Future trend data looks negative for Apple’s Mac Pro but rosy for Apple’s iPad Pro.


While not explicitly calling focus to Apple’s iPad Pro tablet computer platform, Business Advantage’s latest Worldwide CAD Trends 2016 Survey report indicates that virtual, tablet, smartphone, and mobile workstation platforms all rise in future hardware usage in CAD markets while both PC-class and workstation-class desktop computers decline.

The survey data is based on respondents from within CAD-based industries including manufacturing, AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction), process & plant, government, education, and others. Globally, the size of all these industries constitutes a massive snapshot of computer trends in industrialized nations.

Apple May Be Right About Tablets

While the general sales performance of Apple’s much-touted iPad line has been called into question within the overall market over the past few years, Apple may indeed be correct about the future of computing heading to more types of smaller “form factor” devices. Moreover, its own new Mac Pro—and stalled updates and developments—echo the fundamental findings of Business Advantage’s survey report.

While some suggest that Apple has continued plans for a workstation-class desktop computer in the Mac Pro, actual survey results with CAD-based industries paint a bleaker picture; Apple may not have been updating the Mac Pro because it is already aware (rapidly changing) future trends. And these future trends are very much centered around mobile.

Mobile Workstations Rise—Desktop Workstations Fall

Within CAD industries desktop workstation computers have dominated for decades. In 2016, the survey report indicates that 56 percent of all CAD users get their work done on such machines. But this number is expected to decline to just 41 percent—a massive 15 percent drop.

01 - Business Alliance's latest 2016 CAD Trends report shows marked decline in future interest in desktop computing form factors, due to rise in mobile + cloud and new platforms.

01 – Business Alliance’s latest 2016 CAD Trends report shows marked decline in future interest in desktop computing form factors, due to rise in mobile + cloud and new platforms.

However, it is not PC-class desktop computers that are cutting further into workstation usage. PC-class desktops are expected to decline as well, from 42 percent today to 29 percent in future CAD user usage. (see chart above).

What we see in the survey data is increased usage and demand for more mobile and cloud-based solutions. Due to the cloud in particular, “virtualization” continues to rise in computationally intensive industries where massive scale in data centers can bring about powerful solutions to all kinds of mobile devices.

Because of cloud and the emphasis on mobile, the “mobile workstation” as a platform or form factor—which technically is a powerful laptop computer with “workstation” class hardware components—also shows a small rise in future usage. With 21 percent of future CAD work executed on “mobile workstations,” and 41 percent of future CAD work done on desktop workstations, the two “workstation” class devices will have a 1:2 ratio in usage—with a combined 61 percent.

4 Out of 10 CAD Users On New Era Platforms—Like iPad

This means 39 percent or 4 out of 10 people will utilize CAD software on other types of devices as their primary device.

As can be seen in the chart, the “tablet computer” is expected to represent 17 percent of future hardware usage for CAD based industries—a noted threefold jump from 2016 today. This bodes well for tablet computer makers but not so well for those focused solely on the workstation-class desktop machine.

01.1 - Drawing by hand naturally is the most powerful iterative process within the larger architectural workflow.

01.1 – Drawing by hand naturally is the most powerful iterative process within the larger architectural workflow, shown here on iPad Pro—the next generation may have A-series CPUs that outperform Intel chips. 

Apple is currently in a strange place with its Mac line of computers. More popular than ever before and with nearly 100 million users, the company is rumored to be set to present a massive update. Given the trend lines pictured above—which have great applicability to both enterprise and SMB markets—Apple might be best served to abandon its workstation-class desktop product (Mac Pro) and focus on a higher performing MacBook Pro as a “mobile workstation.”

Additionally, it may also be well served to offer a type of virtualized workstation offering through its iCloud platform—a way of putting high-performance compute in the cloud for macOS users and their macOS applications.

If neither of those concepts comes to fruition, Cupertino still looks to benefit from dramatic projected increases in tablet usage in CAD industries in the future. With recent reports (see, The Verge, “The iPhone’s new chip should worry Intel,” 16 Sep 2016) of Apple’s latest A-chip CPU in the new iPhone 7 reaching the performance of Intel kit, the company is in a great position to capture growth within worldwide CAD industries.