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.
PC Decline Slows While Tablet Shipments Wane
Despite the encouraging numbers for PCs, the market is still in for difficult times, the analysts said. Mature markets will see shipments decline again in 2015, and “going forward, as younger generations become more mobile and Web-oriented, and emerging regions in particular prioritize converged devices (or economy in number of devices to purchase), the PC market will continue to face tough competition and be more focused on replacements, with limited potential for growth,” Loverde said.
The tablet market also will be challenged, the analysts said. The lifecycle for the devices has gone from two or three years to more than four, due in large part to the legacy software support for older products—particularly Apple devices—and users are turning increasingly to their smartphones for computing tasks, according to Ryan Reith, program director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers.
IDC analysts also put the two-in-ones into the tablet space, and noted how they continue to be increasingly thinner, affordable and available. However, shipments of two-in-ones only account for 4 percent of the market for tablets and two-in-ones, thanks to consumers being unsure about Windows 8, which is found in most two-in-ones.
“We need to look at how the tablet ecosystem is answering these challenges, and right now we see a lot of pressure on tablet prices and an influx of entry-level products, which ultimately serves Android really well,” Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets at IDC, said in a statement. “But we also see tablet manufacturers trying to offset this price pressure by focusing on larger screens and cellular-enabled tablets. The next six months should be really interesting.”
What will help make it so interesting are such questions as to how the industry embraces Windows 10, what Google does with Android and Chrome operating systems in tablets, and Apple’s possible expansion of its product line, the analysts said.