December 2, 2013 11:19 pm

PC sales head for worst year on record

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PC sales will suffer the “most severe yearly contraction on record” in 2013, falling more than 10 per cent as consumers switch to tablets and smartphones, according to the closely watched International Data Corporation PC tracker.

Worldwide shipments of PCs are forecast to continue to fall next year, albeit at a slower pace, down 3.8 per cent to just above 300m, a level last seen in 2008.

Sales this year are forecast to fall even further than IDC originally expected, and more than the 7 per cent decline last year.

Consumers are rapidly abandoning desktops and laptops in favour of more portable devices, even in emerging markets, which had until now been a growth engine for PC sales. Total sales of PCs are expected to fall slightly more in emerging markets, than mature ones, IDC said.

Jay Chou, senior research analyst at IDC, said his chief concern was there were few reasons to replace an older system.

“While IDC research finds that the PC still remains the primary computing device – for example, PCs are used more hours per day than tablets or phones – PC usage is nonetheless declining each year as more devices become available,” he said. “And despite industry efforts, PC usage has not moved significantly beyond consumption and productivity tasks to differentiate PCs from other devices. As a result, PC lifespans continue to increase . . . limiting market growth.”

The commercial market for PCs is “notably better” than the consumer market this year, because companies have been slower to adopt tablets and some have been replacing Windows XP systems which is nearing the end of its life cycle.

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Dispatches from the tech world: FT experts in San Francisco, London and Taipei upload their views

But IDC forecasts a small decline in 2014 and flat demand in the longer term for both markets.

PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell are trying to change direction to deal with the shift in consumer behaviour. HP is almost halfway through a five-year turnround plan under Meg Whitman, chief executive, aimed at reducing its dependence on PC sales while Dell has been taken private.

However, Lenovo, the Chinese company that has become the world’s largest PC maker, has still managed to grow. With access to a massive home market and strong corporate sales, it has outperformed the market by 12 percentage points, according to Gartner, the research company.

Loren Loverde, vice-president of IDC’s worldwide quarterly PC tracker, said sales of Windows-based tablets and two-in-one devices – combining the features of a PC and a tablet – would become an “important growth segment” for the PC market, accounting for 10 per cent of a combined PC and Windows tablet market by 2016.

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