Are Rental PCs a Clue to the Next Big Thing in Technology?

Rent to Own-Storefront look familiar?

A MetaFacts TUPdate by Dan Ness, Principal Analyst

Consumers continue to shape the future of technology with their pocketbooks, whether by outright purchase or payment plans. PC renting is not currently widespread among most U.S. consumers, with only 1% of American online adults using a rented home PC. If considered much at all by the digerati, it is considered passé or fringe.

However, looking ahead, consumer usage patterns are trending towards the pay-as-you-go or the ad-supported model, and with a new definition of PCs and devices as the preferred platform(s): whether called Smartphone, Laptop, Tablet, Netbook, Mobile, or otherwise.

Today’s PC rental business might be called opportunistic, socially beneficial, or predatory, depending on your perspective. Americans renting PCs skew towards younger adults – particularly those PC Newbies who have used a PC less than a quarter of their life – as well as skewing towards adults not employed full-time. Also, evidently, PC renting is biased towards people of color: with rental rates higher among adults who identify with a racial/ethnic group other than White/Non-Hispanic.

Interestingly, these same segments are stronger than average in their use of Smartphones or Basic Mobile Phones as their primary or only browsing, email, and Twitter platforms, as well as the broadening use of prepaid cellular plans. This signals that these consumer segments are likely the earliest adopters of new financial models – not the mythical early adopters stereotypically portrayed as affluent, highly-educated youngsters.

Recently, attention on the rental PC business has increased due to the controversial practices of some rental retailers. The major furniture rental chain Aaron’s was named in a federal lawsuit. Some rental companies, allegedly including some Aaron’s outlets or franchisees, have protected their equipment through the use of remotely activated webcams or tracking software, to the consternation of unwitting renters. Privacy and security issues are looming as important factors following large breaches spanning credit cards, health records, Sony PlayStations, passwords and WikiLeaks documents, only to name a few.

The pay-as-you-go approach has done well for the cable TV and wireless phone businesses, if not for PC manufacturers or PDA makers. Wireless carrier subsidies are increasingly driving the decisions of consumer technology manufacturers, a factor arguably contributing to Palm being driven from their business model prior to being acquired by Hewlett Packard.

In addition to this pay-now/pay-later balance, consumers also position platforms along the BOB-Integrated spectrum. The BOB – Best Of Breed – end of the spectrum features products which do one or few functions very well. One example is a standalone GPS device which gives directions extremely well. The other end of the spectrum: Integrated or Swiss Army Knife – features broadly functional devices which do many things adequately. An example is a Smartphone navigation app, which may not have a full function set or may be compromised due to simultaneous use for incoming messages and music or as a timepiece. Most interestingly, consumers find ways to adapt their behavior in ways that are out of synch with the intentions of the product designers, in some cases using on a fraction of a product’s capability while at other times finding new uses for products beyond their expected design.

Looking ahead, MetaFacts expects continued turmoil and changes as each segment of consumers decide their own favorite device or platform striking a balance of BOB vs. integrated, with choices being affected in part by heightened security and privacy concerns and in part by the underlying payment model.


The results in this TUPdate are drawn from the MetaFacts Technology User Profile Survey. In our most recent wave of Technology User Profile, we surveyed American adults about their use of mobile phones, technology attitudes, and many other behavioral and socioeconomic factors. Current TUP subscribers can access and drill down more deeply into this phenomenon using TUP Interactive Access or with their datasets.

We started this analysis by first looking at the answers from 8,175 U.S. respondents in the Technology User Profile service and then drilled down further into their profiles to get a more complete picture.

Contact MetaFacts to access the MetaFacts Technology User Profile Overview Edition report, which covers the broader range of key trends. View findings in 25 pages of executive summary analysis, 200+ pages of charts and graphs, all supported by 95+ pages of detailed tables. The complete, 300+ page report is delivered to you electronically.

These editions are for the U.S. based on the 2010 wave of Technology User Profile gathered among a scrupulously selected set of representative respondents, surveyed both online and offline.

To see other research coverage of Internet products and activities  – from smartphones to feature phones, desktops to notebooks, social networking, demographics, and attitudes – see the many other questions TUP answers on Tech market research professionals who want a solid resource they can use immediately after industry events such as mergers, or even use prior to anticipated events, can license direct access to TUP.

About TUPdates

MetaFacts releases ongoing research on the market shifts and profiles for Smartphones, Netbooks, Mobile PCs, Workplace PCs, Home PCs, Web Creators, Broadband, and many other technology industry trends and facts. These TUPdates are short analytical articles in a series of specific topics utilizing the Technology User Profile Annual Edition study, which reveals the changing patterns of technology adoption around the world. Interested technology professionals can sign up at for complimentary TUPdates – periodic snapshots of technology markets.

About MetaFacts

MetaFacts helps technology marketers find and measure their best and future customers. MetaFacts’ Technology User Profile (TUP) survey is the longest-running, large-scale comprehensive study of its kind, conducted continuously since 1983, the year before Apple released the Apple Macintosh. The detailed results are a primary market sizing and segmentation resource for leading companies providing consumer-oriented technology products and services, such as PCs, printers, software applications, peripherals, consumer electronics, mobile computing, and related services and products. TUP analyzes key trends and the data-rich source can be dived into more deeply for custom analysis. For more information about the syndicated research service, analysis tools, publications and datasets, contact MetaFacts at 1-760-635-4300.

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