Something new is coming to the PC industry: Growth

But growth will be slow and only affect thin and light devices

New MacBook

The MacBook Air features all-day battery life and fourth-generation Intel Core processors.

Credit: Apple

There's something new coming in the PC market: growth! Sales volumes have hit bottom, and will start to pick up from next year, say analysts at Gartner.

Growth won't be fast -- just 0.4 percent next year, and perhaps 3 percent the year after -- but it will mark a change from the 8 percent drop in unit sales Gartner is forecasting for this year.

Sales of basic laptops and desktops will continue to shrink, from 216 million this year to 199 million in 2018, said Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal: The growth -- from 49 million this year to 75 million in 2018 -- will all be in the expensive premium ultramobiles category. That's good news for vendors' bottom lines, if not for IT budgets.

In 2020, he forecasts, fewer than 30 million desktops will be sold: About one for every 100 internet users on the planet, in case you were in any doubt that this is an increasingly mobile world.

Gartner defines premium ultramobiles as thin and light laptops -- a category defined by the MacBook Air -- or hybrid devices like the Surface Pro (tablets with removable keyboards). They typically run Windows or MacOS on an Intel processor and are capable of replacing a standard PC.

Even Apple's new iPad Pro gets relegated, with the rest of the tablets, to what Gartner calls basic (branded) or utility (white label) ultramobiles. That market is declining faster even than PC sales -- down 10 percent since last year -- although Gartner expects it to stabilize at around 173 million in 2017 and 2018.

The iPad Pro is not managing to break through in the business environment, Atwal said. "Users still want higher-performing Windows-based devices." Despite its large screen and stylus, the iPad Pro "is still more of a content consumption device," he added.

And business users' needs are what matter: The consumer market for laptops is still in decline, he said, which is bad news for the PC makers like Asustek Computer (Asus) that do most of their business there.

Asus isn't the only one suffering, though: NEC sold almost all of its PC activities in July to Lenovo, which is now considering buying the PC business of another Japanese company, Fujitsu.

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