PC Refreshes Provide Slow, but Consistent Growth, Gartner Says

In its latest 2014 worldwide devices forecast, Gartner says tablet growth is slowing but projects consistent PC growth over the next five years.

PC demand

The super-fast growth of tablet computers is slowing globally in 2014 as consumers, business users and other hardware buyers readjust their computing needs to fit the expanding range of devices that are available in the marketplace. That's the latest conclusion from Gartner, which released its worldwide devices forecast on Oct. 16, including expectations for sales of PCs, tablets, ultramobile laptops and mobile phones in 2014.

The key figures in the latest report show that tablet sales growth is slowing in 2014 compared with 2013, when tablet sales grew worldwide by 55 percent. Gartner now estimates that tablet sales worldwide will reach 229 million units in 2014, up 11 percent from 2013, but a far cry from the previous year. Tablet sales for 2014 will represent an estimated 9.5 percent of total worldwide sales of all devices, the report stated.

Overall worldwide combined shipments of PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones for 2014 are estimated to reach 2.4 billion units in 2014, a 3.2 percent increase from 2013, according to Gartner.

Additionally, global PC sales are continuing to rise, with an estimated 314 million units shipping in 2014, compared with an estimated 317 million units in 2013, according to the report. For 2015, the estimated PC sales total is again expected to rise, to 325 million units, according to Gartner.

"For years the world was talking about the death of PCs" because of smartphones and other new devices, Mika Kitagawa, a Gartner principal research analyst, told eWEEK. "That point is not really correct. PCs are not going to die."

Instead, what Gartner is seeing is that PC sales dropped in recent years in reaction to rising sales of mobile devices, such as tablets, smartphones, laptops and ultramobile devices, said Kitagawa. But users have certainly not abandoned PCs. What Gartner is seeing now is that PC refreshes are continuing to happen, which is providing slow but consistent growth to the important segment over the next five years, she said.

"Our projection for PCs is about 3 percent growth over the next five years," including ultramobile premium machines that are thin and light and are running Windows or Mac, she said.

"That's the one thing that I've been trying to convince the world about is that the PC is not dead," she said. "It's just changing the market size to a smaller size. There were too many PCs out there. People had multiple PCs in the past and now people are not replacing them all. Some of them are being replaced by tablets. That's where the market is shrinking. The installed base is shrinking."

That same sort of readjustment is also happening in the tablet marketplace, said Kitagawa. "Part of the reason tablets are slowing down is because penetration is getting up to 50 percent in the U.S.," she said. Adding to the high penetration rates, the devices don't have to be replaced as often as PCs do, she added.

The smartphone market is still booming, however.

Smartphone market growth continues in the United States, she said, partly because smartphones are replaced more often than other devices due to tougher lives as an essential part of a user's lifestyle.

"The smartphone is in a different position," she said. What is adding to the slowdown for tablets is the phablet phenomenon, as some users begin to select from larger phones that are being marketed as tablet replacements.

"I don't think that will be the majority of device ownership among consumers," she said. "A phablet is still too small as a tablet for many people."

Gartner also projects more than 90 million fewer new tablet purchasers and 155 million fewer tablet replacements through 2018, according to its numbers.

"With 18.1 percent of growth expected in 2014, the ultramobile segment is projected to show the highest increase in the overall devices market, and will overtake sales of traditional PCs in 2015," the report states. "Gartner estimates that sales of traditional PCs will reach 261 million units in 2015, while sales of ultramobiles will amount to 346 million units."

Global mobile phone shipments in 2014 are expected to total about 1.86 billion, compared with about 1.8 billion in 2013, according to the report. For 2015, that number is expected to reach 1.9 billion.

"The mobile phone segment will continue to grow in 2014 due to strong sales of lower-end smartphones," the report states. Sales of basic smartphones—including midrange Android devices—are projected to grow 52 percent in 2014, while utility smartphone units (including low-end Chinese white box devices) will double, according to Gartner.