Opinion

PCs in retreat as market prepares for tablet invasion

Poor old PC. Things are not looking good. After all the furore surrounding HP's decision to retreat from the PC arena, we now read that Gartner has downgraded its PC market forecast for 2011, suggesting the PC is "not a particularly compelling product" and arguing younger people "are not buying PCs as their first, or necessarily main device"

Those are the words of Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal and he's a man who should know what he's talking about. Unit sales are increasing but not as much as they are supposed to for this year or for next. Indeed, the new forecast for 2012 of 404 million units is the same figure that Gartner originally predicted for 2011.

Atwal's colleague, George Shiffler, argues that tablet computers have "dramatically changed the dynamic" of the market. Worse still, he adds that "vendors' tried and true business models are failing... vendors only seem to be flailing as they look for quick fixes [and] the resulting chaos is creating more confusion across the supply chain". Hard-hitting words but accurate too.

Is anyone else out there amazed at just how quickly the PC market is beginning to fragment in the face of the relatively new onslaught from tablets and smartphones? I know we had the rise of the netbooks a couple of years ago, but their impact was nowhere near as pronounced (and profound). It also seems to me that, unlike netbooks, tablets are here to stay and will continue to affect the PC market even if, at the moment, most PC vendors are struggling to come up with something viable to compete with Apple's iPad.

Usage of PCs in the home is likely to decrease. The home PC could well become a background home sever device or hub called on occasionally to provide the added firepower required to handle certain tasks beyond the capabilities of tablets or smartphones. In which case, is there really any requirement to buy a new one every two or three years? It's also possible such a scenario may not come to pass if home users are able to outsource heavy duty processing to the cloud.

What does this mean for all those people in the PC supply chain? Probably not as much as it would have five years ago or so. The fact is the PC is only a part of the overall IT supply chain and the solutions the members of that chain sell to their customers. It shouldn't be too hard for them to incorporate tablets and smartphones to plug any gap left by the PC's retreat.

The post-PC future is on the horizon and it's heading this way. It won't be long until it arrives. "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon..."

This was first published in September 2011

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