Of course PC sales are in decline: Mobile is where it’s at

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For the first full year since 2001, personal computer sales are projected to decline in 2012. IHS iSuppli shared its data on Wednesday, saying the PC market will see 1.2 percent fewer sales this year as compared to 2011. That means the total number of PC sales will fall from 352.8 million last year to 348.7 million by year end. This shouldn’t be a surprise: the perfect storm of connectivity, hardware advances in mobile devices and more capable mobile apps are attacking PC sales on all fronts.

Emil Protalinksi at The Next Web  wonders if Windows 8 can provide a bounce to this market, and market researcher IDC was also cautiously optimistic about tepid growth in announcing Thursday poor third-quarter PC shipment results across the board.

But if there is one at all, I don’t think it will be big, nor long lasting. For better or for worse, we’re coming to — or in some cases have passed — the tipping point for mobile vs. desktop. As of late 2010, smartphone sales started surpassing those of traditional computers. And IHS iSuppli’s own forecast for tablet sales this year, which really didn’t exist in meaningful numbers until 2010, says they’ll jump 90 percent to 124 million sales, or just over 35 percent of total PC sales this year.

Some in the PC market have ignored this shift; that’s why I called the top computer companies five biggest losers in January last year. They’ve watched their sales figures erode as two things have happened: Apple has continued to buck the trend by generating Mac sales growth and computing activities are migrating away from traditional computers.

Ridiculous or reality?

Right about now, I suspect many readers are thinking, “Ludicrous! We still need PCs at work and to get specific tasks done that no smartphone or tablet can do. To say the PC is dead is simply ridiculous.” To that, I say, yes… and no. I’m not suggesting the PC is dead. I am suggesting, however, that the PC is dying and the numbers have shown all the warning signs of it getting replaced for the past few years.

More importantly, those readers still shaking my head over this thought are likely long-time PC users. There’s a whole new generation of the world’s population growing up now that uses a tablet or smartphone as their primary computing device. Don’t believe me? The numbers don’t lie: A recent survey of 7,700 teens shows that 40 percent of them have a tablet and 43 percent have an iPhone. Surely, some have PCs too, but are they primary computing devices?

I can’t extrapolate much from my own kids but it’s telling to me that they only turn to PCs in rare instances these days: To play online Flash games and occasionally for multiuser video chat. Outside of that, it’s all iPad, iPod or Android phone for games, email, and even schoolwork. I don’t think their usage patterns are outside of the norm for their generation, but again, I won’t read too much into their activities.

But that brings me back to Windows 8 and the overall PC market. Windows 8 is expected this month. Now is the time when people should be talking about it as Microsoft builds buzz. But try an experiment to see if that buzz is where it should be.

Which is owning the conversation: PCs or mobile devices?

In your circle of friends, family, co-workers and the like, tune in to their tech talk. See if they’re more excited about the possibility of an iPad mini, the latest Android phone, an Ultrabook, or a new Windows 8 device, for example. Sure, you’ll find some talking about the latter two, but I don’t think you’ll find the majority of the conversation revolving around PCs. The new mobile world order is about smartphones and tablets, not the legacy activities that require us to be attached to a laptop or desktop computer.

IBM PCOne could argue that the poor economic climate is hurting higher priced PCs as consumers and businesses choose to buy less expensive mobile devices. That’s a fair point. As the global economy heals, however, I don’t expect PC sales to rise with it. Our mobile devices are more capable than ever before and becoming more capable every day. Thank the maturity of apps, faster mobile broadband networks, use of the cloud and improved mobile chips for these and future advances.

Schools, enterprises, and consumers alike are moving on to the always-connected, do-anything-anywhere experience that smartphones and tablets provide. And as more do so, the stodgy old PC as we’ve known it for 25 or more years is getting left behind.

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