PC shipments in 2013 dropped precipitously -- and the future's murky

Though Gartner's and IDC's predictions collided with cold, hard reality in 2013, they're oddly optimistic about PCs in 2014

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  • Windows 8 was an abomination, and Windows 8.1 does precious little to rectify the situation. Windows 8.1 Update 1, now expected in the spring, may restore the Start menu and bring us something like Stardock's ModernMix to put Metro apps on the desktop -- we might even see a few Windows Phone apps make the leap to the WinRT side -- but I doubt that Win8.1U1 (gotta love the name) will do much more for old-fogey desktop workers like me.
  • All of the developer interest now (OK, 98 percent of the developer interest) has absolutely nothing to do with the kinds of PCs Gartner and IDC are tracking. Yeah, I include Mac computers in that assessment -- Surfaces too. The sexy new stuff is all mobile. That's what consumers want and, increasingly, ipso facto that's what enterprises will want, too.
  • Windows XP's death won't amount to a pimple on the backside of PC shipments. Even if Microsoft hangs the whole PC industry out to dry by cutting off support for Windows XP, the number of people/companies that will upgrade from XP to Windows 7 between now and April 8 asymptotically approaches zero. Those that are sufficiently concerned about XP's demise and are willing to upgrade to a Windows PC (as opposed to a tablet) made the move -- or at least put their orders in -- before the end of the year.
  • The alternatives -- iPads and iPhones, Android tablets and smartphones, and Chromebooks and custom Android devices like the Amazon Kindle Fire -- are getting much better and eating even more into traditional PC sales. Barring a miraculous turnaround in 2015 with Windows 9 or some sort of epiphany on the Mac side, it's very hard to imagine PCs going anywhere but down, in spite of what Gartner and IDC say.

Gartner's talking about ultramobiles again (I'm still not clear on the definition of the term), and it predicts the combined traditional, tablet, ultramobile, and smartphone shipments will hit 2.4 billion units in 2014, up 7.6 percent from 2013. Pshaw -- if you throw tablets and smartphones into the mix, the Gartner prediction is much too low. Asymco's Horace Dediu, for example, shows smartphone penetration growing at an astounding and accelerating rate through 2017. Three months ago, IDC predicted 450 million smartphones will ship in 2014 in China alone. Canalys says mobile device shipments will hit 2.6 billion by 2016 -- which, barring a global recession, also seems low to me.

If you're betting the farm on PC sales popping back up in 2014, it's time to sell the farm. Let's check back in a year and see what actually happens.

This story, "PC shipments in 2013 dropped precipitously -- and the future's murky," 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.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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