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Tablet sales set to outstrip laptops as PC market suffers

John E Dunn | June 3, 2013
PC model in structural decline, says IDC.

The PC market is not only declining but the sales popularity of tablets suggests the fall is now irreversible, IDC has said after crunching quarterly figures that will make depressing reading for vendors that depend on this market.

Problems in the PC market have been flagged for some time but the analyst's latest PC and Tablet Trackers suggest that the effects of economic recession might be the less important reason PC sales have been heading south.

The firm predicts that in 2013 global PC sales will fall 7.8 percent, with even larger falls in mature markets such as the US and Europe, with total sales reaching 322 million units across desktops and laptops.

Tablet shipments, meanwhile, will grow 58.7 percent this year, reaching 229 million units, up from 2012's 144 million figure. Average selling prices will decline around 11 percent to $381 (£254).

This means that during 2013 tablets will pass laptops as the best-selling portable computing devices, a landmark moment.

According to IDC, many consumers can carry out the same basic computing tasks using a relatively cheap tablet that they could with a more expensive PC, which now sell for an average of $635.

While the much-criticised Windows 8 interface probably hasn't helped it could now be a side issue for buyers who simply prefer the streamlined (i.e. simpler) experience of tablets and smartphones.

"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," argued IDC's program manager for Mobility Trackers, Ryan Reith.

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

Tablets are winning because they are not only cheaper, but are more intuitive to use, have longer battery life and turn on quickly, all markers for how portable Pcs will need to evolve if they are to slow the sales declines.

Intel's Ultrabook platform for Windows laptops addresses some of these concerns but only by bumping up process to several times that of competing tablets. The gap between what Intel and its partners think an Ultrabook can sell for and what consumers are willing to pay will have to narrow for it to make serious headway.

One possible saviour is the business market that is in the process of finally ditching XP systems but even here IDC sees little respite from the device crunch.

"The BYOD phenomenon has moved from smartphones to tablets and PCs with nearly 25 percent of employees in organisations larger than 10 people claiming to have purchased the primary PC they use for work," said IDC's program vice president for clients and displays, Bob O'Donnell.


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