Disruptive Forces Challenging PC Industry: Gartner Lowers Forecast for Worldwide PC Shipments

By Erin Harrison November 29, 2010

Growing user interest in media tablets and a still-uncertain economy are the primary drivers for an expected decrease in worldwide PC shipments, as forecasted by global technology research firm Gartner.

However, worldwide PC shipments are on pace to total 352.4 million units in 2010, a 14.3 percent increase from 2009, according to the latest preliminary forecast by Gartner. Yet these projections are down from Gartner’s previous PC shipment forecast in September of 17.9 percent growth.

Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, explained that the results reflect “marked” reductions in expected near-term unit growth based on expectations of weaker consumer demand, due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad.

“Over the longer term, media tablets are expected to displace around 10 percent of PC units by 2014,” Atwal said.

In addition, 2011 worldwide PC shipments are forecast to reach 409 million units, a 15.9 percent increase from 2010. This is down from Gartner’s earlier estimate of 18.1 percent growth for 2011.

Analysts also noted five key “disruptive forces” that, in coming together, will weaken the PC market moving forward.  

“PC market growth will be impacted by devices that enable better on-the-go content consumption such as media tablets and next-generation smartphones,” said Raphael Vasquez, research analyst at Gartner. “These devices will be increasing embraced as complements if not substitutes for PCs where voice and light data consumption are desired. It is likely that desk-based PCs will be adversely impacted over the long-term by the adoption of hosted virtual desktops, which can readily use other devices like thin clients.”

George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, said that while PCs are still seen as necessities, the PC industry's inability to “significantly innovate and its overreliance on a business model predicated on driving volume through price declines are finally impacting the industry's ability to induce new replacement cycles.’

“As the PC market slows, vendors that differentiate themselves through services and technology innovation rather than unit volume and price will dictate the future. Even then, leading vendors will be challenged to keep PCs from losing the device ‘limelight’ to more innovative products that offer better dedicated compute capabilities,” Shiffler said.

According to the Gartner analysts, the five dynamics that are challenging the PC industry are:

Emerging Markets Continue to Drive Growth

While Gartner expects a continued upside in its emerging market forecast, leading to emerging markets gaining more than 50 percent of the total worldwide PC market by the end of 2011, mature markets will face mounting challenges.

Consumer Wallet Continues to Shrink

Home mobile PCs have suffered the steepest downgrade with shipments in mature markets expected to be significantly weaker. Consumers in the U.S. and Western Europe continue to postpone purchases in the face of financial and economic uncertainty. However, Gartner said that the bigger issue for PCs in the home market is consumers temporarily, if not permanently, forgoing PC purchases in favor of media tablets. 

Emerging Devices

Media tablet capabilities are expected to become more PC-like in the coming years, luring consumers away from PCs and displacing a significant volume of PC shipments, especially mini-notebooks.

Extended Life Cycle Impact

The growth of emerging devices will have an important indirect impact on PCs – the extension of average PC lifecycles, according to Gartner analysts.

Uptake of Thin Clients

Hosted virtual desktops (HVDs) are not expected to earnestly impact mature professional markets until 2012, at the earliest, Gartner analysts said. Longer term, users that adopt HVDs to access their compute capabilities will do so predominantly by using refurbished PCs and thin clients. These alternative devices will displace new PC units, reducing expected future desk-based shipment growth.

Gartner analysts will provide a more detailed examination of the PC industry during the webinar “Gartner Preliminary PC Forecast and Market Scenarios, 4Q10” at 11:30 EST on Nov. 30.

To register for the client webinar, click here.


Erin Harrison is Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives, for TMC, where she oversees the company's strategic editorial initiatives, including the launch of several new print and online initiatives. She plays an active role in the print publications and TechZone360, covering IP communications, information technology and other related topics. To read more of Erin's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives

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