Tablets, Smartphones Change Device Landscape for PCs: Gartner

By Nathan Eddy  |  Posted 2013-01-14

The PC industry’s problems, evidenced by slowing worldwide shipments in the fourth quarter of 2012, point to something beyond a weak economy, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.

Worldwide PC shipments totaled 90.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 4.9 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2011, and in the United States, PC shipments totaled 17.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 2.1 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2011. The report attributed the decline to a burgeoning variety of increasingly attractive devices and services such as smartphones and tablets entering the market.

During the holiday season, consumers no longer viewed PCs as the No. 1 gift item, and analysts said while there was uptake of very-low-priced notebooks as a part of mega-holiday deals, this uptake did little to boost holiday PC sales.

“Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by 'cannibalizing' PC sales, but by causing PC users to shift consumption to tablets rather than replacing older PCs,” Gartner Principal Analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a statement. “Whereas once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC. There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be the exception and not the norm. Therefore, we hypothesize that buyers will not replace secondary PCs in the household, instead allowing them to age out and shifting consumption to a tablet.”

Kitagawa also noted that this readjustment is likely to continue until the installed base of PCs declines to accommodate tablets as the primary consumption device, while the much-anticipated launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system did little to boost PC sales. Analysts said some PC vendors offered somewhat lackluster form factors in their Windows 8 offerings and missed the excitement of touch.

Hewlett-Packard regained the top position in worldwide PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2012, thanks in part to its success in managing large retail deals targeting the Windows 8 launch and holiday sales in selected regions, while Lenovo dropped to the second position in the same period, but experienced the best growth rate (8.2 percent) among the top five PC vendors worldwide.

“Consumer’s holiday spending went into other products and services, and U.S. holiday sales became less important for PC sales. For professionals, the fourth quarter is typically a good sales season because of last-minute PC purchases before the tax year-end,” Kitagawa concluded. “Our early research indicates that there was good growth in professional PC sales.”

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