Bleak, bleaker, bleakest: Latest PC market forecast projects historic 10% downturn

Microsoft's strategy to replace lost PC sales with tablets and 2-in-1s isn't paying off yet, but there's hope, says IDC

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The former looks impossible at this point, said IDC, although there was hope for the latter when Windows-powered 2-in-1s and tablets are added to the mix.

"The emergence of 2-in-1 devices -- many of which will run Windows -- along with Windows-based tablets, is expected to provide some new volume for the Windows platform ... in coming years," Loren Loverde, also of IDC, said in a statement yesterday.

"But at this stage, we don't see a substantial impact" from either 2-in-1s or tablets running Windows, Loverde added in a Tuesday interview.

Like many other market research companies, IDC has wrestled with how to integrate shipment forecasts of new form factors, including convertible 2-in-1 devices and tablets, with traditional PCs. Currently, it includes neither in its PC estimates; instead it tracks tablets separately and will soon do the same for 2-in-1s.

The problem is that while 2-in-1s may resemble PCs -- and may be used as PC replacements by some -- tablets are usually not. Loverde cited the prominence of smaller-sized tablets, and their content consumption orientation, as one reason why including them in PC calculations muddies the water.

"Tablets are shifting very quickly to the low end, building on the 'third-screen' concept," Loverde observed. "They're competing less directly with PCs."

There is hope for Microsoft, said Loverde: By 2017 Windows tablet shipments should stand at 39 million units, up dramatically from around 7.5 million this year. Windows-based 2-in-1s, as demonstrated by Microsoft's own Surface Pro, also hold promise.

Even so, IDC kept its outlook conservative. "There's some potential for Windows-based 2-in-1s, but the Windows tablets on the market have limited traction so far," said Loverde. "Thirty-nine million [tablets in 2017] is a nice number, but considering the number of total PC shipments, it's not a lot of growth."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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