PC Market: Don't Call It A Revival - InformationWeek

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PC Market: Don't Call It A Revival

Ultramobile hybrids and Windows XP upgrades have slowed the bleeding but the PC slump hasn't ended.

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After slumping 9.5% last year, PC shipments will drop only 2.9% this year, according to the latest projections from Gartner. The research firm expects declining PC sales to level off thanks to both Windows XP customers who've upgraded to newer systems, and increased adoption of "ultramobile" laptops and hybrid devices.

"2014 will be marked by a relative revival of the global PC market," said Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal in a statement.

To say the predicted figure represents a PC revival, even a relative one, might be hyperbole. This year's predicted 2.9% drop is relative to last year's disastrous baseline. PC shipments, in other words, are still declining; they just aren't tumbling as rapidly as before.

[Windows 8 has been divisive, but will Microsoft turn things around with Windows 9? Read Windows 9: Desktop Resurgence?]

Moreover, the 2.9% slip includes a number of devices that might not fit all users' notion of a PC. Gartner's overall PC figures include "premium ultramobile" devices, which the firm defines as models that maintain full data-processing capabilities but "extend the notebook usage model toward the tablet by refinement of physical characteristics" that include a light weight and portable size, a smaller screen than most notebooks offer, and instant-on capabilities. Gartner includes many Intel x86-based Windows tablets and Apple's MacBook Air in this category.

If premium ultramobiles are removed from the equation, Gartner expects traditional desktop and laptop PC shipments to drop 6.7% this year, and another 5.3% in 2015. The firm said 296.1 million traditional PCs shipped in 2013, but expects that number to drop to 261.7 million by 2015. At the same time, it expects premium ultramobiles to carve out a strong niche. The devices accounted for 21.5 million shipments in 2013, but Gartner predicts that figure will jump to 32.3 million this year, a 50.2% improvement. In 2015, Gartner expects premium ultramobiles to account for almost one-fifth of all PC shipments, with 55 million units overall.

Ultra thin and light laptops such as Apple's MacBook Air are included in Gartner's desktop PC sales numbers, which are looking a tad brighter.
Ultra thin and light laptops such as Apple's MacBook Air are included in Gartner's desktop PC sales numbers, which are looking a tad brighter.

Gartner also projects that tablets, whose popularity helped trigger the PC slump, will continue to become more ubiquitous, albeit at a somewhat slower rate. The firm predicted that after hitting 200 million shipments and growing by more than 50% last year, tablet industry output will reach 256.3 million slates this year, a 23.9% uptick. That volume would still trail PC shipments, even if tablet-like premium ultramobiles were removed from the PC tally. But Gartner anticipates tablet shipments will surpass PC shipments by 2015, when the firm expects 321 million tablets will ship.

Gartner said increased demand for phablets will cut into tablet sales, though it also expects larger tablets to gain ground in mature markets. Elsewhere, however, cheap devices will drive growth. "The next wave of adoption will be driven by lower price points rather than superior functionality," said Atwal.

Gartner's tablet definition is somewhat subjective. It differentiates pure slates from both Windows RT devices, such as the Surface 2, and Windows tablets with sub-10-inch screens that can still accept keyboards. Gartner lumps these Windows models and Chromebooks into a "basic ultramobile" category.

Gartner said a little under 3 million basic ultramobile devices shipped last year. It expects that number to swell to 5.4 million units this year, and 7.6 million in 2015. Unlike premium ultramobiles, basic ultramobiles are not included in Gartner's overall PC shipment figures.

Overall, Gartner expects Google to remain the computing leader, though the firm believes both Apple and Microsoft both will gain new users as well. Android-based devices accounted for nearly 900 million shipments last year, more than the combined shipments of all Windows, OS X, and iOS-based devices. This year, Gartner expects Android to account for almost 1.2 billion device shipments, followed by Windows, with over 333 million PCs, smartphones, and tablets. Gartner expects Apple to place third, with 271.1 million units.

Gartner's projection suggests better progress for Apple than Microsoft. Windows-based devices accounted for around 326 million shipments in 2013, so Gartner's 2014 projection represents only a 2.3% increase. OS X and iOS-based devices, in contrast, accounted last year for only 236 million shipments, meaning Gartner expects Apple to enjoy a 14.8% uptick. 

"We expect the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 6 will attract pent-up demand for users who want a larger screen," said Gartner research director Annette Zimmermann. She added that Windows Phone should also attract new customers. Gartner expects Microsoft's smartphone OS will still be a distant third this year, accounting for only 4% of shipments, but that it could command 10% of the market by 2018.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
7/9/2014 | 8:16:49 PM
Re: Gartner's Predictions Have Been Way Off

It's true, they initially underestimated the PC slump by a large margin, and had to downward-revise their forecasts for several consecutive quarters. There are also smaller quibbles in the individual shipments numbers they ultimately settle on.

Ultimately, I don't think traditional PC sales will ever bounce back to anything like their former heights, but there will continue to be a need for conventional form factors, even if they get spruced up. Most computers used to look alike, but now, computers are more like cars-- they serve different purposes and are built differently, and you pick the one(s) you need. Some people need a scooter, and some people just need a smartphone or small tablet, other people need huge trucks, just like some people still need full-powered workstations.

Also, great avatar.
User Rank: Ninja
7/9/2014 | 7:17:11 PM
Re: Gartner's Predictions Have Been Way Off
I agree.  There have been many prediction of the death of the PC, but this hasn't happen. I do agree that people these days prefer to get tablets becuase current tablets have the same computing power as PCs.  Also, they are portable.
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 7:07:42 PM
VuJa-De' (Haven't heard this one before) [sarcasm]
The death of the PC has been overstated more than once. Again let's walk down memory lane when the Laptop was being hailed as the "desktop replacement." Same story, just a different form-factor of a device.

Experience has shown that the fixed desktop is just to darn useful to kill off. But as devices come in to answer needs, an apples to apples comparision is what is really needed. Look at the use-cases. Tablets, Phablets, Phones and Laptops are all MOBILE devices... Last time I checked, desktops only go as far as the power cable will let them go. Because of this, a PC can have more raw horsepower and better displays because they are not subject to that annoying battery issue or size limitations. But a mobile device is the road warrior's best friend. Most people are not doing engineering CAD development for jets in the field, nor are they running heavy chaos math turbulence equations on market evolutions on a smartphone. The tools are finally specializing in ways the customers can choose the device based on need.

Now some will always go with the fad of the day mentality, but if history bears out, most will find they will need a suite of device tools each for a specific need. The desktop workstation role may be evolving, but it still has years of life in it.

Personally I believe the major slump in the desktop market is due to misteps by Microsoft and system vendors. Windows 8 is truly an "even numbered MS OS." Those of you who are older will get the reference. If the vendors and MS realize that the role of a workstation has evolved into a hybrid server-desktop that servers as data repository and the general purpose muscle being tasked to do things it was never designed to do, then they can accomodate the real demand in a marketable function. Till then, watch people start repurposing old machines with plenty of life in them as experimental Linux boxes (just to see if it's worth it to change over economically.) Should that be the case, the decline in new machine sales would be matched by an increase in raw RAM memory & hard drive sales. In short, "Why buy a new Windows 8.x when the Win 7 and Linux boxes are still doing the jobs reliably?"

Just some points to consider.
IW Pick
User Rank: Strategist
7/8/2014 | 1:29:08 PM
Gartner's Predictions Have Been Way Off
Over the past 3 years, I've been reading all the articles on the decline in the traditional PC market. It occurs to me that in the past 3 years, Gartner's forecasts have been wildly off the mark. So much so, that I find it humorous that news organizations still take them seriously. The raw numbers tell a much better story and we'll have to wait until 2015 to find out if the PC is off of life-support and now only on critical-care. 
User Rank: Apprentice
7/8/2014 | 12:49:21 PM
Another article telling us that PCs are on the way out? Is this still news?
Another article telling us that PCs are on the way out? Sorry, I have been seeing these articles for a number of years now. This just feels like someone is wishing this was all going faster or something... not sure what the fasination is on this topic. Maybe it just hasn't happened anywhere as fast as predicted by some people. I don't which it is... all I know is that this is becoming a tired subject in 2014. Reality: almost everyone I know has both a PC and a tablet (and smartphone). The PC has not been totally replaced by the cloud or talets or smartphones for every user - and won't for quite a while - especially in the enterprise. Why? Because the software that these company have to use to run their business requires it. No other reason. On a related note: the corporate IT team in most companies are not purposely holding back implementations of "the cloud", VDI, or mobile use. They are just the people that are held accountable for when any of those solutions don't work well and/or company data is exposed or lost. An example, when the company I worked for had a issue with a cloud provider, the first thing they did was turn to IT for help... who couldn't do anything to assist because nothing related to the solution was managed by IT (that's basically the point, right?) So it became a legal issue, etc... the business impact was real and painful for our customers. Cloud is getting more usable, but still presents big risks to companies. Bottomline - knowlege workers seem to need them all right now: PC, tablet, and smartphone. It is true now and into the next few years at least.

User Rank: Apprentice
7/8/2014 | 7:08:30 AM
Re: Window - Android Hybrid
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User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 11:21:37 PM
Re: Window - Android Hybrid
The desktop is beyond hope to be revived. But I do think that in the future we will see interesting mobile PC models. The advent of wearables will likely fuel this as well. But no matter what, I still think people will want to work on PCs.

I get the whole tablet and phone craziness, but I just don't find those devices particularly productive. Some people would rather have something to work on whenever, wherever. But for me the PC is still the way to go. 
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 11:10:53 PM
Not Again!
Very reluctantly and unhappily, I dumped XP for 7 late last year. If 7 can do anything FOR ME that XP can't do, I've yet to see it. For the last few years, I've always had two XP machines; one for use, and one as a backup. Now, I have a Linux machine that serves as a backup, and it serves perfectly well. If I'm forced, once again, to dump a perfectly functional piece of hardware, this time for Windows 9, I'll start exploring the wonderful world of Google and that of Android. I bet I'll have LOTS of company.
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 6:20:13 PM
The processing of personal computing has moved into the cloud
While some might lament the decline in PC sales, there's no question that the growth in all kinds of personal computing devices make personal computing (lower case) one of the hottest markets in the world. The pride consumers used to take in the processing power of their PCs has been replaced by the mobility and connectedness of their personal computing device. These devices will inevitably get smaller and more mobile. At the same time they will be connected to more powerful servers in the cloud, which has replaced the processing power of the PC.  with its distant, anonymous servers.
User Rank: Strategist
7/7/2014 | 5:14:09 PM
Window - Android Hybrid
i P r o T a b l e t-- is one source worth reviewing for tablets and offers ten new models to launch in July -- including the new Ramos i 10 Pro ($399) Windows 8.1 - Android hybrid, that's the first Dual Boot tablet on the market and makes it easy to use both Windows software and Android Apps on one device -- and offers an Intel Bay Trail 64 bit CPU plus a 10" 1920x1200 HD display, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Also new is the Ramos i12 ($299), an ultra-size 12-inch tablet that's also powered by Intel.

One other model worth noting is the new iFive Mini4 ($219) -- which is the first 8-inch Android tablet to offer a retina-quality, 2048x1536 display; plus features long battery life, Bluetooth, GPS, and a high performance processor that outperforms both the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini.
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