As PC Sales Decline, iPad Grabs Share

Analysts continue to downgrade PC sales forecasts, but also warn that other than iPad, tablets are not selling as fast as the industry had hoped.

Chandler Harris, Contributor

June 7, 2011

4 Min Read

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While Apple continues to pile on sales numbers for the iPad, overall demand for both PCs and tablet computers is declining, research firms say. IDC just lowered their expectations for PC and tablet sales for this year and beyond.

In February, IDC predicted the worldwide PC shipments would have a 7.1% growth in 2011. Yet after a weak first quarter this year that saw PC shipments decline 1.1% from last year, the firm dropped that estimate to an expected 4.2% growth this year.

Consumer PC shipments declined by 4.4% during the first quarter of this year compared with last year, but they were partially offset by 3% growth in commercial segments.

Sales of tablet computers have declined as well by about 10% since early March, with the only high volume tablet being the iPad, according to a report by J.P. Morgan. Apple has sold more than 20 million iPads since it was launched in April 2010. However, the Android 3.0 "Honeycomb"-based Motorola Xoom tablet has had disappointing sales results. So have the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Asustek Eee Pad Transformer, and RIM's PlayBook, according to J.P. Morgan.

The supply of tablets in 2011 could exceed demand by as much as 36%, as projections for sales of iPad and other tablets may be too high, JP Morgan warned.

The consumer PC market has been strong since 2005, when it averaged 18.9% until 2007. The market then jumped to 21% in 2008 and 2009, when notebooks and netbooks were popular, according to IDC. Yet since the third quarter of 2010, saturation in the netbook market, competition from mainstream notebooks and media tablets, and economic uncertainty have cut into the consumer PC market.

"PC growth surprised a lot of people for how well it did in 2010 and later part of 2009," said Jay Chou, senior research analyst for IDC, in an interview. "A lot of that was fueled by sales of netbooks that made PCs a much more disposable commodity and kept the PC industry afloat ... Yet now the popularity of netbooks has really taken a dive."

Tablets, smartphones, and even eReaders have also affected PC growth as consumers turn to other devices for Internet browsing and other activities, Chou said. Goldman Sachs believes tablets will displace one in three PC sales in 2011.

"Users depend on their PCs for work but are subdivided based on tablets and netbooks and to some degree smartphones for consumption," Chou said.

Another reason for slowing PC growth is that users aren't finding compelling reasons to replace their current PCs, since no significant new product has been announced that will enhance user experience enough to buy a new PC, such as the launch of Windows 7 did. A study by the NPD Group earlier this year said the drop in PC sales had more to do with the launch of Windows 7--and the subsequent jump in PC sales it inspired--rather than increasing sales of the iPad.

PC growth is also being affected by modest growth in the commercial sector, disruptions including the Japan earthquake and nuclear disaster, the political uprisings in the Middle East, and reduced economic projections, which will keep overall growth in single digits the rest of 2011, IDC reported.

The decline in PC shipments was more pronounced in the mature regions of Western Europe, the United States, and Canada, which saw an overall projected decline of 10.3% in 2011.

A glimmer of hope for the PC market could be new models of PCs with thinner designs, longer battery life, and touchscreen features that are expected to be available next year, such as Intel's new Ultrabooks. In 2012, IDC projects the overall PC market for mature markets will increase to 7.8%, with emerging markets projected to be at 12.2% growth.

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