will tablet sales really cannibalise desktop PCs?

A striking story hit me on the way into work earlier this month claiming that the “new iPad” will see tablet sales cannibalise desktop PCs. The certainty of this headline got me thinking. Could we really be entering a phase where everyone will be seen using a device on-the-go? 

Our media consumption habits have radically changed. We are now restless for information on the move. The old adage of time stands still for no-one has never been truer and has created the new BYOD phenomenon that many enterprises dread.

are tablets dominating?

But, are we really in a post-PC era that will see tablets dominating our lifestyles and the way we utilise technology as our information resource? (more background on this with this video about the Post PC era on Orange TV)

Not according to market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC). Despite the substantial growth of mobile handheld and tablet devices, traditional PC desktop and laptop systems aren't going away anytime soon. Just the opposite - annual PC shipments could grow by nearly 50% worldwide between now and 2016.

According to IDC, total PC shipments worldwide and across all segments grew a modest 1.8 percent in 2011, reaching 353.3 million units. That growth was driven by traditional portable computers (laptops, netbooks, etc.), which increased 4.2% overall to 209.4 million units. Desktop PCs actually declined in 2011 worldwide by 1.6% from 2010, reaching 144 million units. Total PC shipments are expected to reach 518.3 million units in 2013, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker.


Despite these growth figures IDC says growth in 2011 was slowed by the "distraction" of media tablets like Apple's iPad, but that will change with the release of the new Windows OS later this year.

"Many consumers are holding off making PC purchases at the moment because tablet devices like Apple's iPad are proving to be a powerful distraction," said Bob O'Donnell, vice president of clients and displays at IDC, in a statement released today to coincide with the report.

"However, end user surveys tell us that few people consider media tablets as replacements for their PCs, so later this year when there is a new Microsoft operating system, available in sleek new PC form factors, we believe consumer interest in PCs will begin to rebound."

more figures in favour of tablets

What has been interesting is how the tablets have started to make a name for themselves in the marketplace. According to a TechCrunch report, analysts from Piper Jaffray are now forecasting as many as 66 million sales of the new iPad device in 2012, up from the earlier prediction of 60 million. Meanwhile, Sterne Agee analysts are now predicting 60 million, up from 55 million.

Apple CEO Tim Cook noted during the iPad’s launch that Apple sold more iPads in Q4 than any single manufacturer sold in PCs. Gartner later released figures showing that PC shipments were on track to grow just 4.4% in 2012 to 368 million units, as consumers would prioritize buying smartphones and tablets over desktops and laptops. And last month, Canalys dubbed Apple the largest “PC” maker if you were to count iPads as PCs.

In addition, IDC also recently raised its tablet shipment estimates for the year, up from 87.7 million to 106.1 million, in advance of the iPad’s launch.

Overall, tablet and e-reader sales on eBay.co.uk increased by a staggering 443% last year, while demand for more conventional desktop personal computers dropped by 35%.

so what’s driving the tablet hysteria?

For the vast majority of both business and consumer PC users, tablets in general provide all of the core functions, such as email, Web surfing, basic productivity, casual gaming, social networking, etc.. And, they have the added benefit of being slim, light, and having battery endurance that can make it through the entire day…and then some.

Indeed, employees are demanding not only to use their own devices at work, but also to have more flexibility in the way they work and when and where they work. The Cisco Connected World Technology Report found that more than 40% of college students and young employees said they would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.

Yet, this does not have to mean the end of the PC. As the mobile and desktop operating systems for both Apple and Microsoft seem to converge and meld into one, the line gets blurry on the differences between the two in terms of experience, and it just comes down to picking the size and shape of PC that works best for you whether that is a desktop, ultrabook, or tablet.

Either way, enterprises must be prepared for the battle in front of them. Read our 10 steps to successfully build a BYOD-friendly collaborative enterprise blog for some useful tips to get you on your way.

Would you want to be caught out by tablets if they did start cannibalising the classic desktop PC?


Nicolas Jacquey
Joe Fernandez

Joe Fernandez is a technology writer and blogger for Futurity Media. As a journalist, he was an editor on Computer Weekly and Microscope magazines and worked as a deputy editor for Marketing Week and its sister title Pitch covering online marketing and social media developments. Joe has also appeared in titles including New Media Age, Guardian Computing, Computing Magazine, The Inquirer and Mobile Magazine.