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Summary:

Tablet sales are rising says IDC, as 27.7 million slates were sold in the last quarter. Apple still holds a majority market share as Samsung, Amazon and others are catching up to the iPad. But there’s a bigger story here when it comes to PCs.

Nexus 7, tablets
photo: Google

On Monday, research firm IDC reported that 27.8 million tablets were sold worldwide in the third quarter of 2012 with Apple holding the majority even as other vendors, such as Samsung and Amazon, are catching up. But that’s not the story: Tablet sales have already approached nearly 25 percent of PC sales. As computer sales are in decline, sales of tablets rose 49.5 percent from the same quarter in the prior year. That’s more bad news for traditional computer makers.

To get a feel for the tablet vs PC market, I again looked to IDC for data on computer sales. Last month, it reported a total of 87.7 million personal computers were sold in the third quarter of this year; down 8.6 percent from the year ago quarter. That’s not a favorable trend, considering tablet sales grew nearly 50 percent in the past year. If you were to ignore the smartphone for this exercise — which has surpasses sales of the PC early this year — and do a quick calculation of the total tablets and PCs sold, 24 percent of the 115.5 “computers” were tablets in the last quarter.

Bear in mind that the existing tablet market only began in 2010 with the first iPad. In just three calendar years then, tablets have captured nearly a quarter of the PC market if you lump these devices together. One could argue that these shouldn’t be put together, but I’d disagree. In fact, I did just that in February, with a GigaOm Pro report (subscription required) explaining why the “PC” you buy in three years won’t be a PC but would instead be a tablet. And I’m not the only one seeing the trend: In August, Om pointed out that HP and Dell are on the road to nowhere as both companies missed out on the shift to mobile devices. Add analyst Horace Dediu to the list as well: He suggests tablets will outsell PCs by the fall of 2013.

As I’ve reiterated before with similar posts, I’m not declaring the PC “dead” by any means. There are still numerous use cases where a traditional computer is the best tool for the task. There will be for some years, if not decades, to come.

However, in this new mobile era, there are a growing number of people that simply don’t need a PC any longer. The smartphone with its ubiquitous connectivity and ability to fit in a pocket makes it a Swiss Army knife of applications on the go. And when you need a larger screen to more comfortably create or consume content, the tablet is filling the role of a PC more and more. Still not convinced? Wait for this holiday season and see which market grew more or had blow-out sales: tablets or PCs. My money is on the tablet, just as it has been for the past few years.

  1. We have to stop counting tablets as “computers.” They’re clearly a separate category unto themselves. If not, then all smartphones should be included too as there is virtually no difference except for the ability to place calls over cellular.

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    1. ricosuaveguapo Monday, November 5, 2012

      Agreed.

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    2. Simon, I understand your point about them being separate categories, but here’s how I look at it. Would someone buy a smartphone to replace a PC? VERY unlikely. Would someone buy a tablet to replace a PC? Much more likely and more so as the products mature IMO. Thanks!

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      1. I find that line of thinking highly problematical! To most of the market that would spend serious money on a luxury item like a tablet, ALREADY have in all likelyhood a PC and Laptop. I know I do and a tablet is an absolutely POOR complete replacement device for either!

        Tablets will as they are today will not EVER replace true power computing devices, at best they will be appliances. So the truth in statistics is at best a compliment to devices already owned!

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      2. Depends on the market. In poorer countries, yes people buy smartphones instead of PC’s.

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  2. It”s all fine but you shouldn’t exclude phones and then you get to some 295 mil units and traditional PCs are 30 %. So called media players like ipod touch and samsung galaxy player should be included too and ofc then we have TVs,cars and so on.
    What you should justify is why you are not including phones and media players in the math not why tablets should be included.
    Phones do replace PCs for many that never had a PC and connecting a phone to a bigger screen +keyboard and mouse is getting easier.Samsung just launched a dock for the note 2 http://www.slashgear.com/samsung-galaxy-note-ii-smart-dock-turns-phablet-into-desktop-31255000/ .it’s true that such docks have minimal impact but is pushing hard to wirelessly connect phones to the screen. You also have small and cheap android powered sticks that ,if nothing else, point to the same trend.
    Phones also make the PC upgrade cycles longer and steal a lot of internet time form traditional PCs,lowering the value of traditional PCs.
    Processing power is getting closer to PCs too (you’ve seen it yourself in the ChromeBook) and longer term you have new display tech,first flexible screens ( think a phone with a continuous screen that covers both sides of the phone and can be flatten out to become a tablet like size) then ,hopefully, mid air projections.
    In the end,to what degree one category cannibalizes the other,doesn’t matter at all. Phones are PCs,in fact they are the most personal computers of them all.The productivity software ecosystems for both phones and tablets are in their infancy but that’s not really a good reason to exclude them nowdays from the PC category.

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    1. since i am posting as a guest i can’t really edit so got to post a reply instead

      “but is pushing hard to wirelessly connect phones to the screen.”
      that should have been -”but the industry is pushing hard to wirelessly connect phones to the screen”

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  3. To the points re: categorization – Completely Agree.

    Tablets get lumped into either “PC” or “Mobile” depending on who wants to skew then numbers and fabricate a story or position.

    The reality is that Tablets are an ancillary screen, rarely replacing either “mobile” or “PCs.” They are their own beast.

    Most realistic numbers indicate that PC sales continue to climb, globally, just not as quickly as before (as market penetration/price kicks in). I’d also posit that some families may purchase Tablets for their kids, rather than a laptop/desktop (as we once did), which is a bit of a disservice to the kids, since they won’t learn as many basic computer skills in the process.

    But, let’s end this “constant war” between devices or companies thing, OK It belittles the publication.

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  4. This holiday season is death knell for PCs.

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  5. Ah humans and their incessant desire for conflict. Can’t we all just get along?

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