/ 4 March 2011

PC sales growth to be ‘hit by Apple’s iPad 2’

The overall growth in PC sales will be cut dramatically over the next two years as people in the US and Europe choose tablets such as Apple’s iPad 2 rather than buying laptops, says research company Gartner.

The slowdown marks a new trend in which “PCs’ limitations are being exposed”, the company said, because they do not offer the portability or battery life that smartphones — which have already begun outselling PCs — and now tablets offer.

Hot on the heels of the iPad 2 launch in San Francisco on Wednesday evening, Gartner’s research director Ranjit Atwal lowered the company’s forecast for the number of PCs — excluding tablets — that will be sold this year to 387,8-million, a 10,5% increase on 2010, rather than the 406,6-million (representing 15,9% growth) it had suggested at the end of December.

Last October it forecast that there will be 54,8-million tablets sold in 2011 — up from its estimate of 19,5-million in 2010 — with about half of those going to North America. Rival analyst company IDC calculates that 17-million tablets were sold, of which 85% were Apple’s iPad.

The company had already cut its forecast for PC growth last November, revising it downward from an expectation of 17,9% growth, as it saw people opting for tablets and smartphones. That means the company has almost halved its growth expectation in just four months — and in previous years it has continually revised its forecast downward in the face of slowing demand.

Atwal said that there is “a general loss in consumer enthusiasm for mobile PCs” — representing notebooks and netbooks.

That is key because notebook and netbook sales have been the driver of the PC market’s increase, in some cases showing annual growth of 40%. But the spread of Wi-Fi and other connectivity, plus the growth of smartphones — which for the first time outsold PCs, in the final quarter of 2010 — means portable computers are less important in peoples’ lives than before.

Gartner has also cut its forecast for 2012, reckoning 440,6-million PCs will be sold then, up 13,6% from 2011 — rather than the 14,8% growth it had expected.

Thinking twice
The downwards revision compares with overall growth in 2010 of 13,8% (compared to 2009), when 350,9-million units shipped by Gartner’s figures. Rival research company IDC, which uses slightly different measurement techniques reckons that 364,2-million PCs were sold.

The cumulative effect of the arrival last year of Apple’s iPad, and now the revised iPad 2, along with a number of rival tablets offering Google’s Android system, is to make consumers think twice before buying a second PC. The limited battery life and weight have begun to show portable computers in an unfavourable light.

“We expect growing consumer enthusiasm for mobile PC alternatives, such as the iPad and other media tablets, to dramatically slow home mobile PC sales, especially in mature markets,” said George Shiffler, the company’s research director. “We once thought that mobile PC growth would continue to be sustained by consumers buying second and third mobile PCs as personal devices. However, we now believe that consumers are not only likely to forgo additional mobile PC buys but are also likely to extend the lifetimes of the mobile PCs they retain as they adopt media tablets and other mobile PC alternatives as their primary mobile device. Overall, we now expect home mobile PCs to average less than 10% annual growth in mature markets from 2011 through 2015.”

Even the “professional” market, where PCs are used for business, will see some cases where ageing PCs are not replaced and instead company buy tablets. “Media tablets are being considered as PC substitutes, likely at least delaying some PC replacements,” said Raphael Vasquez, senior research analyst at Gartner.

The slowing trend overall may include drops in growth in some regions. That was already apparent at the end of 2010, when Gartner found that PCs sales in the US declined by 6,6% — yet tablet sales took off. – guardian.co.uk