PC shipments expected to remain weak in 2012

Popular tablets and sluggish economy continue to pummel PC market

Worldwide PC shipments are on track for a small increase, but will remain weak throughout 2012, according to industry analyst firm Gartner.

Global PC shipments are expected to hit 368 million units this year, a 4.4% increase over last year, Gartner said in a statement Thursday.

However, Gartner expects 2013 to be a stronger year with shipments predicted to hit 400 million units.

"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 devices they purchase," said Ranjit Atwal, a research director at Gartner, in a statement. "The real question is whether Windows 8 and ultrabooks will create the compelling offering that gets the earlier adopter of devices excited about PCs again."

The PC market has been sluggish in recent quarters. Last fall, IHS iSuppli reported that the PC market grew by 5.5% in the third quarter of 2011.

While the bad global economy has certainly battered the PC market, industry analysts also point an accusing finger at the burgeoning tablet market and the Apple iPad in particular.

Tablets don't have the software needed to get many work-related tasks done, and their small size and lack of a traditional keyboard don't make them a replacement for a laptop machine. However, when people are deciding how to spend their money, they're often holding onto their older PCs and pulling out their credit cards to buy a tablet.

Apple's unveiling of a new iPad Wednesday, will likely spur consumers to tablets. Apple's online store was so swamped with orders Wednesday that the store became unavailable for two hours after the new tablet was announced.

And when users decide to buy a new machine, many of those iPad owners are buying Apple machines, instead of PCs from Hewlett-Packard, Dell or Lenovo.

"The use of 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 will now look at a task that they have to perform, and they will determine which device will allow them to perform such a task in the most effective, fun and convenient way. The device has to meet the user needs not the other way round."

Atwal also said Intel-based ultrabooks that are coming out this year will garner some interest for the PC market, but they also will be competing for consumer and enterprise interest.

"PCs will face more competition as we see new media tablets based on operating systems from Android and Microsoft, as well the new iPad," he added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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