PC shipments: Still nowhere but down

IDC revises its forecast; PC shipments worldwide to drop 10 percent in 2013, with business PCs losing only slightly less

We all knew the PC market was contracting, but the statistics continue to be revised down, down, and down.

The latest forecast for worldwide PC shipments through the end of 2013, courtesy of IDC, shows the total number down by 10.1 percent compared to last year. That's even worse than IDC's previous projection of a 9.7 percent contraction. The market research firm says it's "by far the most severe yearly contraction on record," with PC shipments barely up from where they were in 2008.

What's more, the brightest spot in the report isn't in emerging markets (which IDC describes as Asia excluding Japan, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa). PC sales have slumped there even more year-over-year (down 11.3 percent) than they have in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and Canada (down 8.4 percent).

The only real reprieve has been in the market for corporate and business desktops, where the decline there hasn't been as marked as in the consumer market. The former dropped only 5 percent, while the latter slid 15 percent. IDC attributes the lesser loss in business systems to "a mix of more stable PC investment planning, a smaller impact from tablets, and to replacements of Windows XP systems before the end of support planned for 2014." But both markets are expected to keep diving -- so much so that there was talk earlier this year of redefining tablets as PCs.

One intriguing finding in the report -- which may also explain why the blow has been softened for business users -- involves how much time users spend on each kind of device. IDC noted that despite the decline in PCs and the ascendancy of mobile devices, "PCs are used more hours per day than tablets or phones."

Given that business systems have experienced less of a slump, one possible way to interpret this data is that PCs are still the primary productivity device for business or otherwise. Even as multiple devices become the norm for multiple uses, and new form factors such as hybrid notebooks and phablets are created, most of the real day-to-day work is still done at a full-blown PC. Even with the arrival of a workforce that's made mobile devices a cornerstone of their work experience, the PC is still central.

But by and large, those consistently used PCs aren't being replaced simply because the need isn't there. Barring the end-of-life for XP -- and even with that being taken into account -- an older PC by today's standards still does a better job with today's workloads than the older PCs of yesteryear.

Hence the slow upgrade cycles for Windows 8, and the redefinition of tablets as PCs by IDG and other analysts as a way to bolster the raw numbers for how many PCs are out there. But the actual bottom for those numbers still doesn't appear to be anywhere in sight.

This story, "PC shipments: Still nowhere but down," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.