Apple iPad, Tight Budgets Hurting PC Sales, Gartner Says

The tablet market ignited by the Apple iPad, as well as tightened budgets and emerging markets, is negatively impacting global PC sales, according to Gartner.

The media tablet market, which was reinvigorated by Apple when it launched the iPad earlier this year, and a handful of other factors are hampering worldwide PC sales, research firm Gartner announced in a Nov. 29 report. Shipments are now expected to reach 352.4 million units in 2010-a 14.3 percent increase over 2009 figures, but down from Gartner's original expectation of 17.9 percent growth.

The firm also dialed back estimates for 2011. While previously it anticipated 18.1 percent growth, it has now put that figure at 15.9 percent, or a total of 409 million units.

"These results reflect marked reductions in expected near-term unit growth based on expectations of weaker consumer demand, due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad," Ranjit Atwal, a Gartner research director, said in a statement. "Over the longer term, media tablets are expected to displace around 10 percent of PC units by 2014."

In addition to tablets, the firm sees next-generation smartphones and other devices that "enable better on-the-go content consumption" as negatively impacting the growth of the PC market.

"These devices will be increasingly embraced as complements if not substitutes for PCs where voice and light data consumption are desired," Gartner analyst Raphael Vasquez said in the statement. Mini-notebooks, or netbooks, in particular are expected to be displaced by tablets, as they become "more PC-like" in the coming years, said the firm.

In addition to emerging devices, emerging markets are expected to challenge the PC industry, "gaining more than 50 percent of the total worldwide PC market by the end of 2011," said Gartner. While PCs have traditionally been the primary device of most users, the firm suspects many consumers in these emerging markets may leapfrog PCs, turning instead to alternatives like tablets and smartphones as their primary computing devices.

The global economy, which has both consumers and businesses tightening purse strings, is yet another factor. However, while businesses may simply be delaying purchases, there's a chance, says Gartner, that consumers may wind up permanently forgoing PC purchases in favor of tablets.

Still another factor, says Gartner, is the extension of average PC life cycles. PCs are lasting longer than before, and users are finding they have less of a need to replace them as often.

Finally, also impacting the market is the uptake of thin clients. While hosted virtual desktops (HVDs) aren't expected to impact mature professional markets in earnest until 2012, says Gartner, in the long term, users who adopt HVDs will do so predominantly with refurbished PCs and thin clients.

While PCs are still considered necessities, said Gartner Research Director George Shiffler, "the PC industry's inability to significantly innovate and its over-reliance on a business model predicated on driving volume through price declines are finally impacting the industry's ability to induce new replacement cycles."

As the market slows, it will be the vendors that can differentiate themselves through services and innovation, not unit volume and price, that will "dictate the future," said Shiffler. "Even then," he added, "leading vendors will be challenged to keep PCs from losing the device 'limelight' to more innovative products that offer better dedicated compute capabilities."