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Why the PC Market Continues to Spiral Downward

Waiting for the personal computer (PC) market to recover now seems pointless. Worldwide PC shipments are expected to fall by -9.7 percent in 2013, further deepening what is already the longest market contraction on record, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC).

The new forecast reflects not only a continued expansion of mobile device options at the expense of PCs, but also marked the cessation of emerging market growth that the industry had come to rely on in recent years.

The market as a whole is expected to decline through at least 2014, with only single-digit modest growth from 2015 onward. It's now believed that the PC market will never regain the peak volumes last seen in 2011.

While the results of the second quarter were in line with forecast, a number of issues led IDC to further downgrade its PC outlook. Aside from stubbornly depressed consumer interest, 2013 also marks the first year where emerging regions are expected to contract at a steeper rate than mature regions.

Leading this trend is China’s revised forecast, which calls for a double-digit decline in shipments this year compared to 2012, as channel sources report high levels of stagnant inventory and continued enthusiasm for tablets and smartphones.

The repercussions of a slowing China, anxiety over the possible tapering of the U.S. quantitative easing program, and weak intrinsic PC demand are among a litany of factors that have rippled across portions of other formerly strong-growth areas, leading emerging markets as a whole to see declines through at least 2014.

"The days where one can assume tablet disruptions are purely a First World problem are over," said Jay Chou, senior research analyst at IDC.


Why is the PC market outlook so negative? The current PC usage experience falls short of meeting changing usage patterns that are spreading through all regions, especially as media tablet price and performance become ever more attractive.

Looking beyond 2014, IDC expects a very slow rebound, driven in part by modest consumer refresh of systems whose lifecycle have dramatically lengthened in recent years, as well as businesses taking a first serious look beyond Windows 7. However, without an adequate mass of compelling applications, the PC market is poised to subsist primarily on lukewarm replacements in the future.

The second quarter of 2013 was the third consecutive quarter where the U.S. market came through stronger than the worldwide market. This was largely due to some recovery in the overall economy and channel inventory replenishment. Following the stronger than expected 2Q13, IDC expects the second half of 2013 to restore some volume momentum driven largely by better channel involvement of top vendors and industry restructuring/alignment.

IDC also anticipate operating system migration (Window XP to 7) will drive some volume in the commercial segment. Entry-level ultra-slim systems and lower-priced convertibles will also be bright spots in an otherwise still troubled consumer market.

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