PC industry woes worsen as 'phenomenal transition' shrinks shipment numbers

Windows 8.1 can't turn around the trend, says IDC

The PC industry's problems continue to worsen, said research firm IDC yesterday as it again lowered shipment forecasts for the year.

And the personal computer business's problems are Microsoft's problems.

"Windows 8.1 will not be a driver [of sales] in the short term, not to consumers," said Jay Chou, one of the IDC analysts who works on the PC tracking team. "And enterprises have only very recently migrated to Windows 7."

For the second time this year, IDC sharply reduced its PC shipment estimates, which count systems that come off predominantly Asian factory lines and are shipped worldwide to distributors, directly to retail, or to computer sellers like Lenovo, Hewlett Packard and Dell. According to IDC, 2013 will end with a 9.7% contraction compared to the year before, the largest in the firm's 18 years of tracking the statistic.

In May, IDC adjusted its forecast from -1.3% for the year to -7.8%.

If IDC's prediction is accurate, it would mean that 315.3 million personal computers will ship in 2013, about the same number as in 2009.

Next year will probably be slightly worse: IDC's now saying that 2014 shipments will decline 2% compared to the already dismal numbers of 2013. Not until 2015 will shipments increase, and then only by an estimated 1% over the prior year.

"This is a phenomenal transition," said Chou of the decline of the PC in the face of a shifting landscape, where mobile -- smartphones and tablets -- have absconded with not only dollars but also with peoples' time, time once spent in front of a PC.

"If you think about it, from 1995 onwards, we've had multiple recessions but the PC industry kept on ticking," Chou said. "In 2001 it shrank for a year, with the dot-com bust, but we've always had events that fueled PC demand all over. First it was broadband. Then it was Wi-Fi, which untethered computers and brought about the popularity of the notebook. Netbooks encouraged the last market boom. But this transition...."

IDC also said that the PC's best days were not only behind it, but not to be equaled, at least through 2017, as far out as it dares to forecast.

"The market as a whole is expected to decline through at least 2014, with only single-digit modest growth from 2015 onward, and never regain the peak volumes last seen in 2011," IDC said in a statement accompanying its latest forecast [emphasis added].

"Peak PC," as Computerworld dubbed it in July, was the third quarter of 2011, when 96.1 million systems shipped. The following quarter, PC makers shipped 95.8 million machines. Since then, the numbers have slipped.

If 2013 ends up as IDC expects, the year would represent a 13% contraction from 2011, the industry's high-water mark.

Other than computer component suppliers and PC makers, Microsoft will be the company hit the hardest: Sales of its Windows operating system are almost entirely reliant on new PC sales.

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