For PCs, a new lease on life.

There are some interesting results being reported so far this year in the world of “screens.” While smartphones and tablets have seen lackluster growth — even a plateauing or a decline of sales — PCs have charted their strongest growth in years.

As veteran technology reporter Dan Gallagher notes in a story published recently in The Wall Street Journal, “PCs have turned out to be a surprising bright spot in tech’s universe of late.”

In fact, Microsoft and Intel Corporation have been the brightest stars among the large-cap tech firms so far this year. Intel’s PC chip division’s sales are up ~16% year-over-year and now exceed $10 billion.

The division of Microsoft that includes licensing from its Windows® operating system plus sales of computer devices reports revenues up ~15% as well, nearing $11 billion.

The robust performance of PCs is a turnaround from the past five years or so. PC sales actually declined after 2011, which was the year when PC unit sales had achieved their highest-ever figure (~367 million).  Even now, PC unit sales are down by roughly 30% from that peak figure.

But after experiencing notable growth at the expense of PCs, tablet devices such as Apple’s iPad and various Android products have proven to be unreservedly solid replacements for PCs only at the bottom end of the scale — for people who use them mainly for tasks like media consumption and managing e-mail.

For other users — including most of the corporate world that runs on Windows® — tablets and smartphones can’t replace a PC for numerous tasks.

But what’s also contributing to the return of robust PC sales are so-called “ultra-mobile” devices — thin, lightweight laptops that provide the convenience of tablets with all of the functionality of a PC.  Those top-of-the-line models are growing at double-digit rates and are expected to continue to outstrip rates of growth in other screen segments including smartphones, tablets, and conventional-design PCs.

On top of this, the continuing adoption of Windows 10 by companies who will soon be facing the end of extended support by Microsoft for the Windows 7 platform (happening in early 2020) promises to contribute to heightened PC sales in 2019 and 2020 as well.

All of this good news is being reflected in the share prices of Intel and Microsoft stock; those shares have gone up following their most recent earnings reports, whereas all of the other biggies in the information tech sector — including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Netflix and Texas Instruments — are down.

It’s interesting how these things ebb and flow …

Smartphones surge … and phone apps follow right behind.

Smartphones surge in the marketplace ... phone apps right behind them.Media survey firm Nielsen is reporting that as of the end of 2009, about one in five wireless subscribers in the U.S. owned a smartphone. That’s up significantly from the ~14% who owned them at the end of 2008, and adoption is only expected to accelerate in the coming months.

So what’s going on with phone apps, now that a larger chunk of the population is able to download and use them? Nielsen is seeing about 15% of mobile subscribers downloading at least one app in a 30-day period.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who own iPhones are more apt to download apps compared to people who own Android phones, Palms or BlackBerrys. Far more apps have been developed for the iPhone, although Android is feverishly trying to catch up.

Which apps are most popular? It goes without saying that games – free and paid – are quite popular. But the four most popular apps are Facebook, Google Maps, the Weather Channel and Pandora.

And where are the news apps in all this? Not even on the radar screen, it turns out.

… Seems people are getting more than enough news blasted out to them 24/7/365 without needing to sign up for a special app to deliver more of it — thank you very much.

Electronics Before Bed = Up All Night?

It’s common knowledge that Americans are getting too little sleep on a daily basis. Studies have shown that the average hours of sleep have been declining pretty steadily in recent years. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that three out of four Americans are sleep deprived. Often, people scrimp on sleep each night of the week … then try to make it up on the weekends.

No wonder hospitals and other organizations are doing a land-office business in sleep studies. In fact, polysomnography is one of the biggest growth segments in the healthcare field.

Now, here comes along a new idea as to what might be contributing to our sleep-deprived state. It’s the cornucopia of consumer electronics we use – computers, laptops, smartphones and iPads – up until the moment we hit the sack.

With these devices shining brightly into our eyes, it turns out they’re tricking our bodies into thinking it’s still daytime.

According to sleep specialists, exposure to these electronic devices can disturb sleep patterns and contribute to insomnia. Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience expert and director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology at Northwestern University, is one who contends that light emanating from an iPad or a laptop “can be sufficiently stimulating to the brain to make it more awake and delay your ability to sleep.”

The iPad, Apple’s latest sensation, comes in for special attention, as it’s a device many people like to use when reading before bed … at the very time the brain thinks the environment should be dark. Unlike the Kindle, the iPad’s light-emitting screen shines directly into the reader’s eye, making it more likely to disrupt sleep patterns.

Not surprisingly, people are affected differently. Elements like the brightness of the light and whether there is extensive blue light – which is common during the day but also emitted from computer screens – are seen to play a role. One way to counteract the “blue light effect” is to wear orange sunglasses which are purported to negate the effect of the blue light; although this might help, it probably won’t do anything for the wearer’s fashion sense!

An easier but equally effective approach might be to simply swear off the computer, iPad or smartphone in the last hour before bedtime. Chances are, your body will thank you in the morning.