As PC and tablet device sales flounder, all devices will become personal

16 Mar 2015

In the world of personal computing devices, there is still only one real winner, the smartphone. IDC has revealed a stalemate in the war of the PC and tablet.

IDC has revised its forecast for the decline in PC sales for 2015, to almost 5pc from 3.3pc.

It said that Q4 shipments of PCs were 1.7pc ahead of forecast but economic and product changes will create a head wind in the short term.

Total 2015 volume is projected at 293.1 million PCs, slipping a little further to 291.4 million in 2019. In value terms, the PC market reached US$201 billion in 2014, a decline of -0.8pc, and is expected to fall another -6.9pc in 2015 with smaller declines in subsequent years bringing the total to US$175 billion by 2019.

In the tablet things aren’t looking any better. IDC has scaled back its five-year forecast for tablet computers from double digit to single digit growth. Worldwide shipments are expected to reach 234.5 million units in 2015, a modest year-over-year increase of 2.1pc from 2014.

As Apple’s rudely healthy Q4 financial results which yielded US$17bn for the Californian tech giant show, smartphones are still where the money is at in technology – smartphones being in essence the ultimate personal device.

Apple sold 74m iPhones in one quarter last year – multiply that by four and you see more iPhones being sold than actual PCs, of which 293.1m are expected to ship this year.

And every product briefing by Apple CEO Tim Cook is a reminder that sales of Mac computers are outstripping those of PCs.

All eyes are now on Microsoft whose CEO Satya Nadella is working on a determined and disciplined strategy to make all devices – PCs, tablets and phones – a single device experience, shrinking the boundary between what is an OS and a browser.

“Fortunately for PC makers, tablet growth has slowed,” said Jay Chou, senior research analyst, Worldwide PC Trackers.

“The PC ecosystem has also begun to see some fruits from efforts to narrow the divide between the PC and mobile devices in terms of both user experience and price points. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done as advances in both hardware and software are expected to benefit an ever wider spectrum of form factors, such as 2-in-1 devices that will further siphon volume from notebooks.”

The outlook for PCs

The introduction of Windows 10 later this year is expected to be well received and support the Windows ecosystem, including some replacements. However, it will also provide a better experience with mouse and keyboard, effectively relieving some pressure to move toward touch, and support non-PC devices like 2-in-1s, likely without boosting total PC shipments significantly.

“The gains in mature regions for 2014 helped stabilize the market, but any opportunity for long-term growth depends on reviving growth in emerging regions, and that seems unlikely with the shift toward mobile devices,” said Loren Loverde, vice president, Worldwide PC Trackers.

“Even including 2-in-1 systems would only boost the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for total PC shipments through 2019 from -1.1pc to 0.5pc. Vendors can focus on growth segments of the PC market such as AIO, slim and convertible PCs, or consolidate share, but pressure on pricing and from competing devices will continue to make it a challenging market.”

The outlook for tablet computers

IDC forecasts that worldwide tablet shipments are expected to reach 234.5m this year, up 2.1pc.

IDC still expects low but positive growth for the market in the years to come as demand in the commercial sector increases, and as Microsoft slowly gains a foothold.

“Despite the growing popularity of phablets, there still remains a portion of the market that wants to use a larger device so they can tailor their experience to the appropriate screen size,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst, Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker.

“Meanwhile, an increasing number of vendors behind small tablets are reducing prices and adopting features like voice calling to entice consumers to purchase their products over competing phablets, making the dynamics of phablets vs voice-capable tablets an interesting one to watch.”

In terms of platforms, Android will remain the leader, with close to two-thirds of the market over the course of the forecast. Once-upon-a-time-leader iOS is likely the weakest link as IDC expects its volume share of the market to decline in 2015, reaching levels below that of the past three years. Windows, despite modest adoption to date, is expected to gain significant share over the course of the forecast, growing from 5.1pc in 2014 to 14.1pc in 2019.

“Microsoft is doing a lot of good things right now and we believe the launch of Windows 10 later this year will not only have a significant impact on Microsoft’s share of the market, but on the industry as a whole,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director, Tablets, IDC.

“There is an appetite for a platform that can provide a productivity experience that remains consistent across multiple form factors and device types, and we believe Microsoft is well positioned to capture some of that demand.”

Personal devices image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years