Shipments of smartphones, tablets and other app-enabled devices will overtake PC shipments in the next 18 months, an event that may signify the end of the PC-centric era, market research firm IDC said.
It may be seen as a historic shift, but it is one that tells more about the development of a new market, mobile and tablet computing, than the decline of an older one, the PC. Shipments of personal computers will continue to increase even as they are surpassed by other devices.
IDC said worldwide shipments this year of app-enabled devices, which include smartphones and media tablets such as the iPad, will reach 284 million. In 2011, makers will ship 377 million of these devices, and in 2012, the number will reach 462 million shipments, exceeding PC shipments. One shipment equals one device.
For PCs, IDC is forecasting 356 million PC shipments this year and 402 million in 2011. In 2012, there will be 448 million PC shipments.
Gens sees similarities between the start of the PC market and what's going on today with smartphones and media tablets.
The IBM personal computer arrived in 1981, but it wasn't until 1986 that vendors stopped debating the future of the PC and rushed toward it, Gens said. A major turning point for the PC was the 1986 initial public offering of Microsoft, a company quickly embraced by Wall Street.
The PC era resulted in the emergence of new companies and the loss of older ones that didn't adapt to the market change. Today, through acquisitions and other moves, vendors are positioning themselves for the new smartphone and tablet market. "The psychology is, 'We can't blow it this time,' " Gens said.
IDC's forecast is also built on worldwide IT spending that is expected to grow overall by 5.7% in 2011 to $1.6 trillion. But Gens said the forecast could change if, for instance, Europe's economic problems worsen and the U.S. does not reduce unemployment or see some recovery in the housing market.
Cloud computing will also expand. Public cloud services will grow by 30% in 2011, rising to $28.7 billion worldwide. IDC has also started to forecast private cloud services, which were estimated at $13 billion in 2011, an increase of 33%. Private cloud services are those delivered from companies such as Accenture and IBM Global Services.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.