The runaway success of the iPad -and the potential of other tablet/slate devices now just on the market or about to be launched in the coming months - is so great that research house Gartner has been forced to lower its earlier forecast for PC sales in 2010. Martyn Warwick reports.
A couple of months ago, Gartner was confidently predicting that PC sales for 2010 would be 17.9 per cent up on 2009. Not any more. Having now factored-in the unexpectedly massive impact of the iPad, Gartner has knocked four full percentage points off its previous prognostication and now says PC sales this year will be up on 2009's figures by a rather less spectacular 14.3 per cent.
And that's not all; Gartner also now reckons that thanks to the iPad, the year-on-year growth of PC sales in 2011 will not be the 18.1 per cent it previously estimated but will come in at a more modest 15.9 per cent.
The thing about lowish percentages is that its easy to nod wisely and think, "Well, given the circumstances, that's not too bad", but when those percentages are translated into the number of devices actually shipped as opposed to what was forecast it makes the scope of the problem so much more evident.
Thus, in terms of actual boxes, and if Gartner is corect, rather than shifting 363.5 million devices PC manufacturers will sell 352.4 million this year - that's 11.1 million less than anticipated. And that adds up to a hell of a lot of revenue.
Gartner says it has revised its figures because the global economic recession has stopped many consumers from buying new PCs. Instead they are making do with old models. However, and ominously for the PC makers, they are spending on iPads and other tablet devices.
Quite why this should be remains somewhat unclear but it must be something to do with the way the iPad has caught the popular imagination in ways the PC manufacturers did not expect and cannot yet counter. Perhaps they never will be able to and maybe this signals the end of an era. Could it be that the days of wine and roses are over for them? It may well be. The PC-centric view of the world is changing.
For example, Craig Berger of FBR Capital Markets says Apple alone will sell 40 million iPads next year while rivals such as Samsung and others will, between them ,sell a further 30 million. According to his calculations five tablet sales results in two lost sales of PCs. So, if you go by Mr.
Berger's arithmetic, the PC sector is set potentially to lose 28 million sales in 2011. As he says, the economics and attractiveness of tablet devices " are not good for PCs." That is something of an understatement.
Meanwhile, the PC makers must be hoping against hope that tablet and slate computers will be no more than a flash-in-the-pan fad, but this seems increasingly unlikely if sales figures are anything to go by. The 11 million plus unsold PCs are more than covered by actual and expected tablet device sales and people seem willing to fork-out more than the price of some netbooks and a substantial part of the cost of some PCs to get their hands on the iPad and its ilk. And, let's face it, the iPad is seductive.
And to make matters even worse for the PC manufacturers, Gartner also believes that the business/enterprise market is changing as well. The research house says that, by 2013, 80 per cent of all enterprises will accept and support tablet devices for their staff. And, to add a further twist to the vicious circle, businesses are increasingly accepting the inevitability of supporting corporate applications on their employee's own smartphones, and tablet devices. If enterprises stop buying PC's for their staff and instead allow them to buy their own devices (with an employer subsidy to sweeten the deal,no doubt) more and more will opt for the latest and best in tablets, slates and handsets and spurn hefty, clunky, heavy PCs.
Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, believes the trend towards the tablets is a seismic and long-term shift. He says, "Over the longer term, media tablets are expected to displace 10 per cent of PC units by 2014. Our new forecast reflects expectations of weaker consumer demand, due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad."
Gartner does strive to discern a silver lining in this for the PC manufacturers and adds that it thinks tablets are "complementary" to PCs. Well, maybe the early iterations are but who knows what extra bells, whistles and go-faster stripes they'll have by this time next year and how much more popular they'll be. And what's the betting that PCs will still be PCs?
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