Windows RT

The PC market is not only declining but the popularity and sales of tablets suggests the fall is now irreversible, IDC has said after crunching quarterly figures that will make depressing reading for vendors that depend on this market.

Problems in the PC market have been flagged for some time but the analyst’s latest PC and Tablet Trackers suggest that the effects of economic recession might be the less important reason PC sales have been heading south.

The firm predicts that in 2013 global PC sales will fall 7.8%, with even larger falls in mature markets such as the US and Europe, with total sales reaching 322 million units across desktops and laptops.

Tablet shipments, meanwhile, will grow 58.7% this year, reaching 229 million units, up from 2012’s 144 million figure. Average selling prices will decline around 11% to $381 (£254).

This means that during 2013 tablets will pass laptops as the best-selling portable computing devices, a landmark moment.

According to IDC, many consumers can carry out the same basic computing tasks using a relatively cheap tablet that they could with a more expensive PC, with an average selling price of $635.

The much-criticised Windows 8 interface probably hasn’t helped but it could now be a side issue for buyers who simply prefer the streamlined (i.e. simpler) experience of tablets and smartphones.

"What started as a sign of tough economic times has quickly shifted to a change in the global computing paradigm with mobile being the primary benefactor," argued IDC’s programme manager for Mobility Trackers, Ryan Reith.

"IDC continues to believe that PCs will have an important role in this new era of computing, especially among business users. But for many consumers, a tablet is a simple and elegant solution for core use cases that were previously addressed by the PC."

Tablets are winning because they are not only cheaper, but are more intuitive to use, have longer battery life and turn on quickly, all markers for how portable PCs will need to evolve if they are to slow the sales declines.

Intel’s Ultrabook platform for Windows laptops addresses some of these concerns but only by bumping up process to several times that of competing tablets. The gap between what Intel and its partners think an Ultrabook can sell for and what consumers are willing to pay will have to narrow for it to make serious headway.

One possible saviour is the business market that is in the process of finally ditching XP systems but even here IDC sees little respite from the device crunch.

"The BYOD phenomenon has moved from smartphones to tablets and PCs with nearly 25% of employees in organisations larger than 10 people claiming to have purchased the primary PC they use for work," said IDC’s program vice president for clients and displays, Bob O’Donnell.

"This means that some of the corporate PC purchases we expected this year will no longer happen," he said.

Businesses seemed content to replace PCs on a much smaller scale than in the past, pulling out systems a few at a time when absolutely necessary.

Tablets appeared to be changing too, with most sales now concentrated on the smaller 7in screen size rather than the larger 10in that started the market’s growth in 2011.

For all that Apple stole a lead in tablets and has continued to do well in sectors such as education, much of the current growth was in lower-cost Android tablets, IDC said.

"The days of the PC are numbered and that the era of the tablet is very much upon us," commented Brocade's heaad of Western Europe, Marcus Jewell who argued that the rise of theses devices signalled new challenges for enterprises.

"The introduction of these devices, not only brings up potential security threats that business must ensure they are protected from, but it also places a massive strain on the network as more and more data is pushed through the pipes."