The trends in worldwide shipments of PCs and tablets are continuing to change, according to IDC analysts.
In a report Nov. 25, the market research firms said the decline in shipments of PCs will continue to slow, hitting a 2.7 percent drop this year. It's still a decline—continuing a streak that began in 2011—but the decreases are continuing to slow down, and the 2.7 percent is an improvement over an earlier IDC forecast of 3.7 percent fall in shipments.
However, most markets saw slight gains in PC shipments in the third quarter, the analysts said.
In another report the same day, IDC analysts said that shipments of tablets—which have been a key factor in the decline of PC sales over the past several years—will decelerate rapidly this year, growing 7.2 percent over 2013. That contrasts with the 52.5 percent increase in tablet shipments seen last year.
In addition, 2014 will be the first year in which shipments of Apple's iPad—which kicked off the rush for tablets when it was released in 2010—will decline.
The numbers are indications of trends that analysts have been seeing for much of the year. The tablet business is reaching a saturation point in many markets, and according to IDC analysts, the lifecycles for the devices are beginning to lengthen, mirroring those of PCs more than smartphones. At the same time, after buying tablets and smartphones, users are beginning to look at their older PCs and deciding it's time to upgrade.
"Features like touch or convertibility, as well as Windows 10 could make systems more versatile and appealing, along with lower prices," said Loren Loverde, vice president of IDC's Worldwide PC Trackers. "However, we've seen steady progress on prices and new designs over the past year, and replacements are stabilizing PC shipments but not boosting total volume."
The sharp decline in PC sales since the last quarters of 2011 had taken many established tech vendors by surprise. OEMs like Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Acer and component makers like Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which derived much of their revenues from PCs, saw their financial numbers take a hard hit as consumers and business users spent their tech dollars on smartphones as well as iPads and other tablets from vendors like Samsung that run Google's Android mobile operating system.
However, as these established tech companies worked hard to gain traction in the mobile space, there also was a push from the likes of Intel to develop technologies that would help drive down the power consumption and cost of PCs. That helped lead to new form factors—such as two-in-one devices (which can be used as either a notebook or tablet) and convertible systems—that could challenge tablets.
Those new form factors—combined with Microsoft's decision to end support of the aging Windows XP OS and the decision by businesses to refresh their old fleet of systems—have helped slow the decline of PC sales, particularly on the commercial side and in mature regions, like North America and Western Europe. The popularity of Chromebooks also is increasing. However, sales of consumer systems continue to lag. Even though the pressure from tablet sales is decreasing, the competition from smartphones and phablets—smartphones with large displays—is growing, the analysts said. In addition, PC sales in emerging markets—which saw the arrival of tablets later and slower replacement cycles—are still declining faster.