After 4 years as gap intelligence’s tablet analyst, I have become pretty used to covering a growing and constantly evolving product category.  As I recently took over the role of Desktop PC analyst, I quickly realized that this category is a different ball game all together and would bring new and unique experiences.  As soon as I started tracking the category, the first thing that screamed at me was, even though traditional PC categories are “challenged,” All-in-One desktops (AIOs) are not declining.  AIOs are definitely one of the main drivers that is keeping desktops relevant and exciting during an era when super compact form factors like tablets and ultrabooks are taking over the PC world with their combined mobility and coolness factors.

As seen in the chart below, while tablet retail placements continue to grow, both desktops and notebooks experienced a decline in the last year.  However, the decline in desktop placements is less than that of notebooks, primarily because AIOs have helped not just keep the category alive, but made it even more diverse, appealing to a new category of users.

As can be seen from the chart below, while every other desktop form factor saw a decline in retail placements during the last year, AIOs, albeit small, at least saw a 1% increase in placements, surpassing towers for the first ever time in January 2013.

Retailers Embrace AIOs

Looking at gap intelligence’s recent numbers, one of the biggest drivers of AIO shelf growth has been the adoption by major retailers like Staples, Sam’s Club, Office Depot, Walmart, and Costco.  Staples’s and Sam’s Club’s AIO assortment increased 100% and 75%, respectively, during the last year to 7 AIOs each.  While we have seen a decline in AIO assortment at some other retailers such as OfficeMax and the Microsoft Store, much of these reductions are only a matter of seasonal timing and I believe the AIO category’s presence is only going to expand across all channels in the coming months.

Retailers are now beginning to embrace AIOs and see the category as an important PC segment to target a new set of users and bring in foot traffic.  With these motivations, vendors and retailers have increased efforts behind AIOs in the last year.  Retailers are adding dedicated AIO aisles and have started carrying informative signage in store to explain the benefits of owing the form factor.  They are re-arranging shelves and are bringing AIOs to the forefront of their desktop assortment, leaving not-so eye pleasing towers in the background.

Vendors Increase AIO Investment

AIOs have seen investments from both traditional desktop players and new vendors.  Lenovo and Dell have been among the key vendors driving AIO growth in the US retail space.  Lenovo previously had just 6 retail AIO placements, but jumped to 14 placements by last month, while Dell saw its AIO placements double from 10 to 20 in the last year.  The AIO form factor also brought new companies like Samsung, Toshiba, Sony, and Vizio to the desktop space, all of which previously limited their PC offerings to notebooks.

AIO Form Factors Evolve

Vendors are moving in the right direction with AIOs by introducing creative, flexible, and innovative designs.  Companies are also introducing mobile AIOs, devices that support wireless connectivity and have their own battery, which make them mobile and cordless instead of being tied to a particular space in a consumer’s house.  Within the last year, major PC vendors such as Lenovo, Sony, Dell, Asus, and HP have all introduced mobile AIOs, making the segment even more mobile and interpersonal in nature.

Arrival of Windows 8

While Windows 8 may not have had a good start last year, the new OS’ touch capabilities have definitely helped shape the AIO mix.  With the ongoing surge in smartphones and tablets, everyone is so in-tuned with touch capabilities, that it almost feels archaic to not have touch controls on their devices.  With the touch capabilities of the Windows 8 OS, dropping touch panel prices, along with vendor needs to make AIOs simple and easy to use for regular consumers, vendors are releasing more AIOs with touch capabilities than ever before.  As of August 2013, touch-based AIOs constituted a 71% share of all AIOs, up from just 51% a year ago.

While the touch AIO concept is hardly new, this year has seen a particularly strong increase in the number of retail placements for touch AIOs, suggesting that consumer and retail reception has been positive and that demand is growing.

The OS Shake Up

To spice things up a little bit more, AIO vendors are also venturing to new operating systems.  Acer was the first to the market with an Android-based AIO, already achieving notable placements at Best Buy, Walmart, OfficeMax, and Staples, while Asus released a dual OS-based AIO (Android/Microsoft) six months ago that has been slow to expand within the US retail channel.  HP’s first Android-based AIO called the Slate 21, will become available this fall.  It is only a matter of time before other vendors enter the Android-based AIO market, driving further feature variety and addressing the AIO category’s price challenges.

Emerging B2B AIO Demand

Towers and other desktop form factors will continue to retain their appeal in the business space, especially due to their graphics and processing strengths and their preferred status among IT VARS (upgradeable, trusted, and modular).

While towers are going to stay relevant in the business environment for a long time, demand for AIOs is also beginning to emerge in some business areas.  AIOs have been a common tower replacement at hospital nurse stations and also as check-in kiosks in customer facing environments such as business front desks.


AIOs could be the force that brings stability to the desktop market, which has been increasingly defined as business-oriented and stagnant.  Vendors are definitely investing in ways to renovate and refresh AIOs and are getting new sources of interest beyond the traditional desktop customer.  While desktop towers continue to remain useful in business settings, new refreshing advancements in the AIO space will help address some desktop challenges in an otherwise increasingly mobile world.  It is possible that the future of desktop PCs could still hold some surprises.