Consumers are keeping smartphones, tablets and PCs longer

Trend leads Gartner to predict a decline in shipments of all types of devices in 2015

Consumers are holding on to their tablets, laptops and smartphones for longer periods, leading Gartner to predict a 1% contraction in shipments of all types of devices globally this year.

The Gartner forecast, announced Wednesday, is a reversal from one quarter ago when the research firm predicted overall growth of 1.5% for devices globally, when compared to 2014.

"Replacement activity across all types of devices has decreased, said Ranjit Atwal, a Gartner analyst. "Users are extending the lifetime of their devices, or deciding not to replace their devices at all."

Even smartphones are being used longer by consumers, although smartphone shipments are expected to increase 14% in 2015 compared with a year ago, Gartner said.

By comparison, laptop and desktop shipments will decline 7.3% in 2015 over 2014. But Gartner also believes, as other analysts do, that Windows 10 PCs running on Intel's Skylake chip will ramp up sharply in 2017, with Gartner predicting 4% growth that year.

Tablets are expected to decline even further than PCs, down by 13% in 2015. Users of tablets with screens that are 7 inches to 8 inches in size are increasingly not replacing their devices, Gartner said.

Gartner's forecast also shows that mobile phones, including smartphones, dwarf all other kinds of devices. Of the 2.395 billion devices expected to ship in 2015, mobile phones will make up 1.9 billion of that total. In 2017, mobile phones will reach 2 billion.

Smartphones have shown dramatic growth as a percentage of all mobile phones in recent years, jumping from 54% of all phones in 2013 to 75% in 2015. In 2017, smartphones are forecast to make up 89% of the mobile phone market.

The expected increase in PCs in 2017 pales in comparison to smartphones, owing to the personal nature of increasingly more powerful smartphones and the decline in costs, especially for Android models.

"Smartphones are the essential computing device and very personal, unlike PCs of the past, which are often used by more than one person," said Tuong Nguyen, a Gartner analyst, in an interview. "It's almost like everyone has one."

Smartphones with larger screens, sometimes called phablets, have encroached on small tablet sales, according to analysts.

In some areas of the world, segments of the consumer market still cannot afford a PC, but can afford a less expensive smartphone, Nguyen noted.

Still, the latest smartphones are not being replaced as quickly as they were three to five years ago. Apple has seen its replacement cycle of iPhones increase from 21.7 months two years ago to 27.4 months this year, according to Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics.

The increase in the period of time for using a smartphone has led Apple to implement an Upgrade Program to allow customers to buy iPhones on an installment plan, something that Samsung is expected to emulate, Entner said.

Still, leasing plans and other inducements by device makers might not encourage buyers to exchange phones more quickly, unless the newest devices have more than incremental improvements, Nguyen said.

"The fact is that there's no compelling reason for users in the U.S. to upgrade their smartphone, and all the new releases are incremental upgrades, with more megapixels, a flashier screen, and more," Nguyen said. "People think, 'Now that I have a smartphone, it's good enough for what I need it for,' and that applies to most people in the market, not the tech early-adopter types. Vendors have to convince us to regularly replace a smartphone."

As for the iPhone 6S, arriving on Friday, Nguyen said new features like force touch will have to be tried and tested in the crucible of new apps from developers.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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