Gartner downgrades from previous forecasts for PC shipments

Tech research firm cites 5 'dynamics' challenging PC industry

Global PC shipments should hit 352.4 million units this year, according to a new preliminary forecast released Monday by Gartner, Inc. That's a 14.3 percent increase over 2009. Which would sound a lot better to PC manufacturers if Gartner two months ago hadn't forecast 17.9 percent growth this year. (Also see: Gartner: 'Timid' growth in IT spending over next 5 years)

But apparently the factors putting pressure on PC sales have increased over the past two months. Either that, or Gartner's September forecast was overly optimistic to begin with. Or a bit of both. (To be fair to Gartner, if the forecasting business were that easy, I wouldn't be an also-ran in my CBS Sports NFL football pool. As it is, I'm getting trounced by my wife, whose strategy of letting our 6-year-old son make some of her picks is paying off.) Gartner also downgraded its worldwide PC shipment forecast for 2011 to 409 million units, or a 15.9 percent increase from 2010, down from the September estimate of 18.1 percent growth. “These results reflect marked reductions in expected near-term unit growth based on expectations of weaker consumer demand, due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad,” Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. “Over the longer term, media tablets are expected to displace around 10 percent of PC units by 2014.” I suspect that percentage will be bumped up over time. I also pick the New England Patriots to beat the New York Jets next Monday night. Gartner analysts have pinpointed five factors exerting pressure on the PC industry: Emerging markets continue to drive growth. Which is a good thing, since emerging markets basically mean more sales opportunities. The problem for PC manufacturers, according to Gartner, is that many consumers in these emerging markets may skip PCs altogether and buy tablets, smartphones and other alternate devices. Shrinking consumer wallets. Which means potential buyers will be making tough choices. And many of these home buyers are either choosing not to replace their PCs with newer models, or buying tablets instead. Challenge of emerging devices. This one's a little redundant, but Gartner says many PC buyers already are giving tablets a shot, and even more are expected to do so as "media tablet capabilities are expected to become more PC-like in the coming years." Extended life cycle impact. Simply put, as alternate devices become more commonplace in the home, consumers will fell less need to replace their PCs as frequently. Uptake of thin clients. Over the long term, Gartner says, consumers will turn to hosted virtual desktops (HVDs) for their computing needs, mostly through "refurbished PCs and thin clients." Bottom line: Consumers will feel less need to shell out for flame-throwing desktop computers.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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