Tablets Haven't Killed the PC Yet

Despite the substantial growth of mobile handheld and tablet devices, traditional PC desktop and laptop systems aren't going away anytime soon. Just the opposite, according to a report released this week: Annual PC shipments could grow by nearly 50 percent worldwide between now and 2016.

According to market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), total PC shipments worldwide and across all segments grew a modest 1.8 percent in 2011, reaching 353.3 million units. That growth was driven by traditional portable computers (laptops, netbooks, etc.), which increased 4.2 percent overall to 209.4 million units. Desktop PCs actually declined in 2011 worldwide by 1.6 percent from 2010, reaching 144 million units.

However, year over year growth is expected to be positive for both desktops and portables worldwide each year through 2016, according to IDC, with desktops seeing modest single-digit or fractional gains each year and laptops seeing between 8.1 percent and 14 percent year-over-year growth in that period. Total PC shipments are expected to reach 518.3 million units in 2013, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.

According to IDC, growth in 2011 was slowed by the "distraction" of media tablets like Apple's iPad, but that will change with the release of the new Windows OS later this year. "Many consumers are holding off making PC purchases at the moment because tablet devices like Apple's iPad are proving to be a powerful distraction," said to Bob O'Donnell, vice president of clients and displays at IDC, in a statement released today to coincide with the report. "However, end user surveys tell us that few people consider media tablets as replacements for their PCs, so later this year when there is a new Microsoft operating system, available in sleek new PC form factors, we believe consumer interest in PCs will begin to rebound."

IDC also indicated that the Windows-dominated PC space will need to undergo potentially significant adjustments to meet the changing expectations of end users.

"2012 and 2013 will bring significant challenges for Microsoft and the PC community," said Jay Chou, senior research analyst, Worldwide PC Tracker. "The Wintel platform must evolve to accommodate user expectations of ubiquitous computing on a multitude of devices and physical settings. Windows 8 and ultrabooks are a definitive step in the right direction to recapturing the relevance of the PC, but its promise of meshing a tablet experience in a PC body will likely entail a period of trial and error, thus the market will likely see modest growth in the near term."

Chart: Total Worldwide Desktop PC v. Portable PC Shipments, 2011 to 2016 Emerging v. Mature Markets (Shipments in Millions) Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, March 12, 2012. IDCcharts powered by iCharts

In mature markets like the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and Japan, desktop PCs will see mostly negative growth over the next five years, while portable PCs will see modest single-digit to double-digit gains. In 2011, both categories experienced significant declines in shipments--9.2 percent for desktop systems and 8.6 percent for portables. IDC has projected a decline of 2.3 percent for desktop PCs this year, followed by 0.2 percent growth in 2013, followed by single-digit declines in the remaining years through 2016. Total desktop shipments in mature markets in 2011 were 52.8 million. That figure is expected to slip to 48.8 million in 2016.

For portables in mature markets, IDC has projected 4.8 percent growth this year, 11.6 percent in 2013, 10.4 percent in 2014, 8.4 percent in 2015, and 5.5 percent in 2016. Total portable shipments in mature markets in 2011 were 99.4 million. That figure is expected to reach 146.6 million in 2016.

Overall growth will be driven primarily by emerging markets, which include the Asia/Pacific region excluding Japan, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. In those markets, overall PC shipments grew 11.6 percent in 2011, reaching 201.2 million units, nearly 50 million more units than were sold in mature markets. That gap is expected to widen considerably over the next five years, with total units expected to hit 322.9 million in 2016 versus 195.4 million in mature markets.

As in mature markets, portable PCs will drive most of the growth in emerging markets--11.2 percent in 2012, 14.8 percent in 2013, 17 percent in 2014, 15.2 percent in 2015, and 13.5 percent in 2016.

Desktops will experience growth in the low to mid-single digits each year throughout the forecast period--2.1 percent in 2012, 5.5 percent in 2013, 4.4 percent in 2014, 2.8 percent in 2015, and 2.7 percent in 2016.

Additional details can be found in IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .