Worldwide PC shipments are on track to record 4.4 percent growth this year, with Gartner expecting vendors worldwide to ship 368 million units. The forecast for weak single-digit growth is due in part to rising consumer demand for tablets, smartphones and other mobile computing devices, the firm's analysts said.
"PC shipments will remain weak in 2012, as the PC market plays catch up in bringing a new level of innovation that consumers want to see in the devices they purchase," said Ranjit Atwal, a research director at Gartner.
The struggling global economic environment as well as supply chain issues are also expected to contribute to a weakening PC market in 2012. The one potential bright spot is Microsoft's coming launch of its next-generation operating system, which is expected to arrive in time for PC vendors to unveil new Windows 8 products during this year's holiday shopping season.
Gartner's growth projection for 2012 "is very skewed toward the fourth quarter," Atwal said in an e-mail Thursday. "So we still expect 2012 to benefit from Windows 8 but the first half of 2012 will be weak."
The Windows 8 Factor
The PC industry is hoping that Ultrabooks will reinvigorate consumer demand for mobile PCs in the latter half of 2012. At CeBIT this week, for example, vendors were showing off their latest designs for new Ultrabook models featuring full-touch capabilities as well as hybrid products that flip between a tablet and a clamshell PC.
"However, PCs will face more competition as we see new media tablets based on operating systems from Android and Microsoft, as well the new iPad," Atwal said.
Gartner expects PC vendors to enjoy higher unit shipment growth by the end of 2013, when they expect that PC shipments will exceed 400 million units. The real question, however, is whether "Windows 8 and Ultrabooks will create the compelling offering that gets the earlier adopter of devices excited about PCs again," Atwal said.
Meanwhile, PC sales continue to suffer due to a redefined consumer computing device landscape.
"Applications such as e-mail, social networking and Internet access, that were traditionally the domain of the PC, are now being used across media tablets and smartphones, making these devices in some cases more valued and attractive propositions," Atwal said.
Consumers now have the ability to examine each task they have to perform and select the computing device for executing it in the most effective, fun and convenient way. "The device has to meet the user needs, not the other way round," Atwal said.
Emerging Markets To Drive Growth
The number of consumers adopting cloud-based services as part of their digital ecosystem is on a steep growth trajectory, which is not good news for traditional PC vendors.
"The evolution of the personal cloud will challenge vendors across all mobile devices markets and add to the hurdles for PC vendors to overcome to revive the PCs and differentiate them from tablets," Atwal said. "The creation of content capabilities of PCs may not be enough to counteract the better content consumption capabilities of media tablets."
Moreover, large businesses and other major organizations that formerly ordered laptops for their mobile employees are switching to tablets. Forrester Research predicts that by 2016 more than 70 million information workers in the U.S. and Europe will be equipped with a media tablet.
Gartner's expectation is that worldwide PC growth in 2012 and beyond will be driven by sales in emerging markets -- with their share increasing from about 50 percent in 2011 to nearly 70 percent in 2016.
"Emerging markets have very low PC penetration and even with the availability of other devices we still expect a steady uptake of PCs," Atwal said.