Smartphones and tablets are replacing PCs as the key drivers behind processor shipments, according to market research firm IHS.
The worldwide market for processors is expected to jump 24 percent in 2013, with shipments reaching 1.5 billion units, an increase over the 1.21 billion that shipped last year, IHS analysts said in a Nov. 26 report. Traditionally, PCs have been the fuel behind processor numbers, according to Gerry Xu, senior analyst of processor research for IHS. However, global PC sales continue to slump, while the markets for smartphones and tablets are still expanding, particularly as new vendors join the fray.
“The overall processor market would not be so healthy if it weren’t for smartphones and tablets,” Xu said in a statement. “The PC market that traditionally drove the growth of the microprocessor segment has slowed. The new mobile platforms have more than picked up the slack, delivering both large volumes and fast growth for processor shipments.”
PC sales worldwide have declined for the past several quarters as consumers and business users spend more of their technology dollars on smartphones and tablets. IDC analysts earlier this year said tablet shipments would surpass those of portable PCs this year, and outpace the entire PC market by 2015. Canalys analysts said Nov. 26 that tablets will account for almost half of all PCs shipped next year.
Bob O'Donnell, program vice president of clients and displays at IDC, told eWEEK earlier this year that tablets are complementary devices to PCs, which are still the primary computing devices for most people. However, consumers are holding onto their PCs longer, which is slowing overall sales.
Every quarter this year will see significant increases in processor shipments over 2012, including 27 percent in the first quarter and 24 percent in the second. The third quarter will see a 19 percent increase, while the fourth quarter should see another 24 percent bump, according to IHS.
The processors being counted range from traditional chips for desktop PCs and servers to mobile chips for notebooks, smartphones and tablets, IHS analysts said. Those mobile chips include stand-alone application processors and systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), which include the application processor and baseband chip.
The mobile space, particularly chips for tablets, is driving the growth, the analysts said. Shipments of tablet chips grew 40 percent—from 38.3 million units to 53.5 million units—from the second quarter of 2012 to the same period this year. During the same time span, smartphone processor shipments grew 38 percent, from 147.9 million to 204.2 million.
Tablet chip shipments were helped by the growing popularity of low-cost devices made in China, which helped such Chinese processor vendors as Allwinner and Rockchip. These vendors not only made processors for white-box tablet makers, but also for such top-tier players as Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, according to IHS analysts.
In contrast, processor shipment numbers continued to tumble this year. In the second quarter this year, PC chip shipments fell to 84.3 million units, down from 89.9 million during the same time in 2012. Chips for notebooks are 2 percent lower than last year, while shipments for desktop PC processors fell 13 percent, according to IHS analysts.
Demand for server chips continues to grow, illustrated by the increase from 4.6 million units in the second quarter of 2012 to 4.8 million units during the same period this year.
Given the disparity in numbers between mobile chips and PC processors, it's not surprising that Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are both making significant pushes into the mobile space. Intel is looking to leverage its low-power Atom platform for use in tablets and smartphones, and company officials believe that the new "Silvermont" architecture will bring the Atom SoCs in line with what chips based on ARM designs can do in performance and energy efficiency. Intel, which IHS officials said controls 84 percent of the overall PC processor market, is looking to use the Atom platform, not only in smartphones and tablets, but also PCs and low-power servers.
AMD also continues to drive down the power consumption of its x86-based chips, and is targeting ultraportable devices—including tablets—as a key growth area.