IDC: PC sales being crippled by tablets; Windows 8 part of the problem

Meanwhile tablet forecast is bumped up for second time this year

The PC may not be dead, but it's not doing well.

Sale of tablets will blow by those of portable PCs this year -- 229.3 million to 187.4 million -- and tablet shipments are on track to surpass all PC shipments combined by 2015, IDC says.

[ BACKGROUND: IDC: PC shipments to decrease in 2013

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Part of this is due to PC sales taking a steeper than expected decline this year that they won't recover from over the next five years, according to IDC, while the research firm has bumped up its sales predictions for tablets for the second time this year.

"IDC continues to believe that PCs will have an important role in this new era of computing, especially among business users," says Ryan Reith, the program manager of IDC's Mobility Trackers service. "But for many consumers, a tablet is a simple and elegant solution for core use cases that were previously addressed by the PC."

Credit: IDC

Contributing to the problem is Windows 8, whose combination of support for keyboard-and-mouse as well as touchscreens has PC makers scrambling to produce new types of devices to accommodate the operating system, IDC says.

Shipments of PCs will drop 7.8% in 2013 vs. 2012, IDC says today, which is significantly larger than the 1.3% decline IDC predicted just three months ago.

If the forecast pans out, that means worldwide shipments will be 321.9 million this year, down from 349.2 million last year. Looking out to 2017, IDC says shipments will reach 333.4 million and still not have regained last year's volume.

"What started as a sign of tough economic times has quickly shifted to a change in the global computing paradigm with mobile being the primary benefactor," Reith says. The market peaked in 2011 at 363 million.

Businesses will buck the trend to some degree as they replace Windows XP machines that won't be supported by Microsoft after next spring, but those replacements will be selective, IDC says, rather than company-wide upgrades.

In addition, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies have nearly 25% of employees in organizations larger than 10 employees purchasing the primary PC they use for work, says Bob O'Donnell, IDC's program vice president for clients and displays. "This means that some of the corporate PC purchases we expected this year will no longer happen," he says.

At the same time, tablet sales are booming, forcing IDC to upgrade shipment predictions for the second time this year.

The latest projection represents a 58.7% increase over 2012, which itself is an upgrade over an earlier projected increase of 32.1%.

The red-hot market is being fueled by small-screen tablets such as iPad Minis and Kindles, IDC says. Tablets smaller than 8 inches grabbed 27% of tablet sales in 2011 and are predicted to snatch 55% this year, cutting dramatically into the market for 8-11-inch tablets such as the iPad.

Dropping prices are helping. The average sale price of a tablet will fall this year from $423.33 to $381, and will fall even further after that. That's about half what the average PC costs ($635), IDC says.

PCs are still useful, but tablets can meet most of users' needs, IDC says, and so new sales go to the tablets. "These users have not necessarily given up on PCs as a platform for computing when a more robust environment is needed, but this takes a smaller share of computing time, and users are making do with older systems," says Loren Loverde, the program vice president of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Trackers service.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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