IDC reduces 2013 PC sales forecast: Down 15 percent in consumer markets

Cyber Monday may have been a win overall, but this holiday season won’t be enough to improve sagging PC sales. IDC lowered its previous estimate on Monday, suggesting that total computer sales in 2013 will decline 10.1 percent, dropping down to sales levels last seen in 2008. Some of the sales slump over the past five years can be attributed to economic uncertainties around the world but the bigger and long-term reason is less need to replace a PC, according to IDC.


That’s bad news for Microsoft(s msft), of course, as it has only been recently that the company has made strides in selling Windows Phones handsets. The company’s Surface tablets haven’t been a hit yet — Microsoft took a $900 million inventory write-down on the products earlier in July this year — and the uptake of Windows 8 appears mediocre.

It’s interesting to note that where Microsoft has a foothold — the enterprise — PC sales are declining less, according to IDC’s data:

“The commercial market is faring notably better than the consumer market in 2013 with shipments declining by -5% year over year compared to nearly -15% for consumer. The relative stability is due to a mix of more stable PC investment planning, a smaller impact from tablets, and to replacements of Windows XP systems before the end of support planned for 2014. However, the long-term outlook for the two markets is not significantly different, with a small decline projected for both consumer and commercial segments in 2014 with near flat growth in the longer term.”


Although there’s no data from IDC to support it, the 15 percent PC sales drop in the consumer market is likely impacted heavily by alternatives to new PCs: tablets. IDC says that Windows tablet sales will approach 39.3 million by 2017, but in a market with 300 million current sales, it won’t help the PC market that much.

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The research firm notes that people still spend more hours of their day actually using a PC than smartphones or tablets. That’s not going to save the industry though:

“PC usage is nonetheless declining each year as more devices become available. 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, thereby limiting market growth.”

Trends suggest computing usage is changing and has been for the past few years. Clearly there are still some tasks today that require a full PC but the most basic tasks that people do the most are easily manageable on a tablet or even a smartphone. Think of activities such as email, casual gaming, browsing the web, consuming audio or video content; mobile devices are fine for these, if not even preferred because they can be done practically anywhere.

It’s expected that annual tablet sales will top PC sales in 2014; it’s likely even that this takes place in the final quarter of 2013. So I may have been off by a year when I dug deeper into this trend back in February 2012 in a piece for Gigaom Research. Seeing the writing on the wall, I suggested that the “PC” you buy in three years won’t be “PC” at all (subscription required). It’s a shame that some of the PC makers — and Microsoft too, for that matter — didn’t see the same writing.