Computer sales are not fading, but they are continuing to evolve from desktop PCs—which led sales trends for years—to a mix of laptops and other portables that are helping users get their work completed.
That's a key conclusion in a new research report by ABI Research about the state of the PC platform in 2015, which shows that computers continue to be critical to users, even as industry observers have said for years that PCs are on their way out.
Instead of computers losing their overall allure with workers and other users, what's happening is that users are selecting different kinds of machines instead of the desktop PCs of the past, Jeff Orr, an analyst at ABI, told eWEEK.
"Industry experts greatly exaggerated the death of the PC," said Orr. "The platform is continuing to evolve its designs to provide flexibility for productivity purposes, while also adapting its shape to support tablet-like, touch applications. Chromebooks (pictured) and ultraportable PCs will continue to drive the most growth within the notebook PC market."
ABI's latest figures, compiled from 2015 global sales, show that 163 million notebook PCs shipped in 2015, about 80 percent of which were laptop computers. "The data suggests that despite a floating myth speculating that it will only be a matter of time before personal computers meet their demise, the market is still going strong and shows no sign of slowing down in the immediate future," the report stated.
What is being seen, said Orr, is that users are demanding portable machines "with some styling" in them, compared to the staid desktops of the past. "Millennials are coming into the workforce and are perhaps changing the demands. In past people were just happy to get a machine from work, even if it was big and loud and clunky. Now workers are coming in and changing some of those expectations within the product design."
ABI's figures show Chromebook sales were up 27.1 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, and are expected to grow by 21.2 percent in 2016 compared to 2015. Laptop sales were down 1 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, and are expected to be down 2.8 percent in 2016 compared to 2015. Ultraportable sales were down 3.2 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, but they are expected to rise by 10.9 percent in 2016 compared to 2015. All three segments combined showed a sales drop of 0.5 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, but are projected to yield a sales increase of 0.4 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.
Chromebook shipments in 2015 hit 6.2 million in 2015 and are projected by ABI to hit 7.6 million in 2016 and 11.6 million in 2021. Laptop shipments hit 129.7 million in 2015 and are expected to drop to 126.1 million in 2016 and to 116.3 million in 2021. Ultraportable shipments will increase, based on ABI estimates, from 27.1 million in 2015 to 30 million in 2016 and 41.2 million in 2021. All three segments combined included shipments of 163 million machines in 2015. ABI estimates that the combined shipments will hit 163.7 million in 2016 and 169.1 in 2021.
"It's much more of an evolution" in the continuing transition from desktop to portable machines, said Orr. Analysts are seeing much more interest among users in 2-in-1 machines and compact notebook and ultraportable machines, he said.
"The big change that we see this year … is more choice," he said, as users can pick from a wide variety of configurations, sizes and styles of portable computers. That can also be problematic because, faced with too many choices, buyers can delay purchases as they continue to research which devices will best meet their needs, he said.
"It's no longer just 'I'm in the market for a laptop, so I'm definitely getting a laptop,'" said Orr. "There's a willingness to look at alternatives."
And though ultraportable PCs cost more than traditional laptops, consumer interest for the 2-in-1 systems is increasing due to the wider versatility they provide, according to ABI.
Chromebooks will to continue to dominate the education market in 2016, according to the ABI research, as school initiatives drive toward 1:1 student deployments with a technology device. "And though the majority of Chromebooks historically shipped in the U.S., the education trend is beginning to see growth in other regions, notably Western Europe. ABI Research predicts that Chromebooks will represent nearly 7% of all notebook PC shipments in 2021."