Tablets Rise, PCs Decline - Who is Winning the Market?

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — April 11, 2013

A consumer- driven device, tablets are used by millions of workers every day, and the form factor is growing in popularity by the year. According to Gartner’s "Forecast: Devices by Operating System and User Type,” worldwide tablet shipments are predicted to be 197 million units in 2013, a 69.8% increase from 2012.


"Lower prices, form factor variety, cloud update and consumers' addiction to apps will be the key drivers in the tablet market," said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. "Growth in the tablet segment will not be limited to mature markets alone. Users in emerging markets who are looking for a companion to their mobile phone will increasingly choose a tablet as their first computing device and not a PC."

As a result, the traditional PC market of notebooks and desk-based units is expected to decline 7.6% in 2013 according to Gartner.

IDC, in its WorldWide Quarterly PC Tracker, shows PC shipments down 13.9% in Q1 2013 compared to the same quarter in 2012 and worse than the forecast decline of -7.7%. The extent of the year-on-year contraction marked the worst quarter since IDC began tracking the PC market quarterly in 1994. The results also marked the fourth consecutive quarter of year-on-year shipment declines.

Overall, Gartner puts total worldwide devices shipped (the combined shipments of PCs, tablets and mobile phones) on pace to total 2.4 billion units in 2013, a 9% increase from 2012, and the number to reach more than 2.9 billion units in 2017.

The firm stated, however, that the mix of these devices will significantly change over the forecast period. The proliferation of lower-priced tablets and their growing capability is accelerating the shift from PCs to tablets.

"While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis."

Gartner does not consider this expected decrease to be a temporary trend. Instead, the research firm sees it as a reflection of a long-term change in user behavior. Beginning in 2013, ultramobiles will help offset this decline, with 25 million devices predicted to be sold this year, and up to 96 million by 2017. The Microsoft Surface Pro is an example of an ultramobile, a combination device featuring a detachable tablet.

Some call these type of devices hybrids or convertibles, but by any name Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology industry analyst firm, thinks Gartner is underestimating the space. In an article on Time, he says the upgrade to Windows 8, (the rumored Windows Blue) will allow Microsoft to aggressively compete in the small tablet space. Creative Strategies predicts tablets eight inches and smaller will account for about 65% of all tablets sold worldwide by 2015.

Consumer vs. Corporate
A Feb. 2013 report from ChangeWave Research, “Consumer Tablet, PC and Ultrabook Demand Trends,” shows that Microsoft may indeed have a chance with the prosumer. While Apple is far and away the leader with 61% of respondents planning to purchase an iPad in the next 90 days, 9% said they would buy a Surface and 8% a Galaxy, so in the battle for second Microsoft has a slight lead.

In taking a closer look at why those surveyed are interested in buying a Windows Pro 8, “33% cited compatibility with my office PC workstation applications and the ability to work the same way on my tablet.” And in fact, 14% call this device a “replacement” for their laptops.

By contrast a ChangeWave survey from the same time period of “corporate” respondents (those who identify themselves as involved with IT spending in their organizations) , shows that 25% say their companies will be providing tablets for their employees in the second quarter, and that 77% of those will be iPads (up from 4% in Q4 2012).

In the corporate market, Microsoft and Samsung at tied at 14%, both down 2% from Q4 2012, so there appears to be a slight tradeoff on the horizon.
ChangeWave shows both consumer and corporate demand down in the PC market, aligning with Gartner’s findings. In fact, according to ChangeWave, demand for tablets is at an all-time high.

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