Growth in PC shipments turns anemic, researcher says

Research firm Gartner reports that PC shipments will be up over 2010 figures, but not nearly as high as it had anticipated.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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HP is among the firms seeing slower PC growth this year, Gartner says.
HP is among the firms seeing slower PC growth this year, Gartner says. HP

A storm of trouble is forcing research firm Garter to revise its 2011 and 2012 PC shipment forecasts, the company announced today.

Previously, Gartner estimated that worldwide PC shipments in 2011 and 2012 would grow 9.3 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively, over year-earlier figures. However, the research firm has now revised that forecast down to 3.8 percent growth for 2011 and 10.9 percent growth in 2012. According to Gartner, 352 million PC ships will ship this year, while 404 million will be sent out next year.

The problem, Gartner said, is that the world is suffering through uncertain economic times. And its latest retail checks indicate that U.S. back-to-school PC sales were not as high as it had initially anticipated.

"Western Europe is not only struggling through excess PC inventory, but economic upheaval as well," Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. "U.S. consumer PC shipments were much weaker than expected in the second quarter, and indications are that back-to-school PC sales are disappointing.

"An increasing pessimistic economic outlook is causing both consumer and business sentiment to deteriorate in both regions," Atwal continued. "We're expecting consumer spending to tighten in response. Business spending will also tighten, but less than the consumer space."

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But those are just short-term problems. Over the long term, Gartner sees even more trouble ahead for traditional PCs, such as laptops and desktops. The company said that younger generations, especially Generation Y, have different attitudes on PC purchasing than older generations. The research firm said that younger folks tend to not think of laptops or desktops as their "main" devices. And over time, that could prove to hurt PCs.

So, what are Generation Y members buying instead? Gartner didn't say. However, the research firm did indicate that "media tablets have dramatically changed the dynamic of the PC market."

This isn't the first time that tablets have been been blamed for potentially hurting the PC market. Earlier this year, research firm IDC said that PCs are facing stiff competition from tablets as consumers think twice about buying a laptop, and instead opt to buy tablets, like Apple's iPad 2.

However, the best example of the changing times in the PC business might have come from Hewlett-Packard. Last month, the company announced that it is considering spinning off its PC business, internally known as the Personal Systems Group, due partly to the effect tablets are having on PCs.

In a conference call with investors last month, HP CEO Leo Apotheker said that "consumers are changing the use of the PC. The tablet's effect is real."

Gartner research director George Shiffler echoed that sentiment today, saying that the old ways of doing business in the PC industry are done.

"Vendors' tried and true business models are failing as traditional PC functionality is extended to other devices, and users continue to lengthen PC lifetimes," he said.