New Tablet Data Suggests PC Manufacturers Must Evolve or Die

To say that the PC-manufacturing market is going through an anemic period is putting it mildly: with shipments declining every quarter, and manufacturing stalwarts such as Dell openly considering whether to shift their attentions to services rather than hardware, it’s an extraordinarily rough time for the business.

And according to new estimates from IDC, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

The research firm’s latest data suggests that shipments of desktop PCs will decline 8.4 percent between 2013 and 2017. Laptops will fare a little better, with shipments creeping up 8.7 percent during that same period. But both form-factors will be deeply overshadowed by tablets and smartphones, which will enjoy growth in shipments of 78.9 percent and 71.1 percent, respectively, over those four years.

“The device world has seen several iterations of cannibalization impacting different categories, with the last few years focused on tablets cannibalizing PC sales,” Bob O’Donnell, IDC’s Program Vice President of Clients and Displays, wrote in a statement attached to the estimates. “Over the next 12-18 months, however, we believe the larger smartphones, commonly called ‘phablets’, will start to eat into the smaller-size tablet market, contributing to a slower growth rate for tablets.”

Tablets eclipsing PCs is a narrative that’s been underway for some time, and IDC’s estimates aren’t exactly controversial. That being said, the numbers do illustrate the danger for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and other manufacturers that continue to make the bulk of their revenues from hardware sales; many of these companies also lack a comprehensive mobile-device strategy, and their movement into services is halting at best.

Take Dell, for example: once a company riding high on profits from manufacturing cheap PCs, it’s remolding itself as a services firm in an attempt to regain some of its former prominence—and it still hasn’t articulated a mobile strategy that will allow it to compete against the other giants in the space.

Or Hewlett-Packard, for that matter, which launched a mobile strategy centered on webOS, only to see its first generation of devices unceremoniously die on the open market. The company’s had somewhat more success in the services area, but the slump in manufacturing dollars is clearly harming its overall revenues.

In light of all that, IDC’s estimates are a stark warning: for PC manufacturers, the time to evolve is now—or risk extinction.


Image: Oleksiy Mark/