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IDC: Tough year for tablets, not as bad as thought for PCs

In 2014, growth in global tablet shipments is taking a steep dive, as consumers upgrade less often than expected. PC shipments, on the other hand, are enjoying a brief easing of their decline.

Apple's iPad will see its first full year of a decline in shipments in 2014, says research firm IDC. Josh Miller/CNET

This year will prove to be a sobering one for tablet makers accustomed to effervescent growth worldwide, but it'll be a little less painful than expected for PC makers and their declining shipments.

Growth in tablet shipments will plummet to 7.2 percent in 2014, compared with 52.5 percent in 2013, researcher International Data Corp. said Tuesday. One of the main reasons is that 2014 will be the first full year of decline in shipments of Apple's iPad tablet.

At the same time, IDC said, PC shipments will fall only 2.7 percent this year, compared with the 3.7 percent previously forecast by the researcher.

Why the slowing growth in tablet shipments? IDC says it's because consumers aren't replacing their devices as frequently as expected.

"In the early stages of the tablet market, device lifecycles were expected to resemble those of smartphones, with replacement occurring every 2-3 years," Ryan Reith, program director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, said in a release. "What has played out instead is that many tablet owners are holding onto their devices for more than 3 years and in some instances more than 4 years."

IDC now predicts that total worldwide tablet shipments for 2014 will come to 235.7 million units, with Android devices accounting for two-thirds of that (67.7 percent), followed by those running iOS (27.5 percent) and Windows (4.6 percent).

Apple's iOS-powered iPad in particular has likely been hurt by a few factors that could continue to plague sales -- in its latest quarterly earnings report, Apple said iPad sales were down 14 percent. It's easy for people to pass older tablets to relatives or friends when they upgrade. People also don't have the two-year upgrade incentive that smartphones get from wireless carriers, and Apple hasn't made big enough changes to the iPad to compel fans to immediately buy the newest model. In addition, most people who crave a tablet likely already have one, and Apple is going up against dozens of new, inexpensive devices that run Google's rival Android mobile operating system.

As for PCs, total shipments for the year look to hit 306.7 million units. The Western European and Japanese markets performed better than expected in the third quarter of this year, but that's seen as a short-term gain rather than an indicator of renewed health in the midterm or long term.

"In the best case for PCs, we'd see a significant wave of replacements as users who spent on phones and tablets in recent years decide they really need to update their PC," Loren Loverde, vice president, Worldwide PC Trackers, said in a release. But, she said, hybrid devices, the move toward mobile, and financial concerns will be constraints on growth.

"As younger generations become more mobile and Web oriented," Loverde said, "and emerging regions in particular prioritize converged devices (or economy in number of devices to purchase), the PC market will continue to face tough competition and be more focused on replacements, with limited potential for growth."