The new PC sales numbers look grim

According to IDC, worldwide PC shipments fell in 4Q 2012 at a faster rate than expected

IDC just published its summary of PC shipments for calendar year 2012. Continuing their inexorable decline, sales of PCs in the United States and worldwide continued to fall in the fourth quarter: 4Q 2012 U.S. shipments were down 3.6 percent from a year earlier; 4Q worldwide PC shipments fell 6.4 percent in the same period. That latter figure compares to a projected decline of 4.4 percent -- not good news at all. Recent reports from market researchers NPD DisplaySearch and Canalys show similar declines.

If you're of the "glass is half-full" persuasion, you can look at the bright side: Full-year 2012 sales of PCs worldwide topped 352 milion units, which is just 3.2 percent less than the same figure for 2011. OK, so maybe the glass is a third full.

Important note: Those IDC sales figures include desktop PCs, laptops, and netbooks, but they don't include servers, tablets such as Android and iOS devices, or handheld devices like smartphones. The report doesn't say whether the numbers include Windows 8 and/or Windows RT tablets.

I expect we'll soon see sales numbers broken out differently. Reporting organizations such as IDC, StatCounter, and Net Applications will have to figure out a way to bring iPads and Android tablets onto the books, as Canalys has begun to do, or come up with a convincing reason why Windows RT and perhaps some Windows 8 tablets don't make their artificial cut.

If you throw iPads and Android tablets into the mix, the whole picture turns topsy-turvy. Canalys says:

Combined shipments of desktops, netbooks, and notebooks showed a year-on-year decline of around 10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, as consumers favored Android and iOS tablets over Wintel-based PCs. Microsoft and Intel will suffer further, with the Wintel PC market share expected to decline from 72 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2013. This will represent a 5 percent decline in unit shipments, largely due to the poor outlook for notebook sales.

NPD's DisplaySearch group predicts that tablet shipments will exceed notebook shipments this year.

Will Windows RT jump in to save the day? Not likely. Neowin just reported that Samsung is giving up plans to peddle its Ativ Windows RT tablet in the United States -- and it may throw in the towel on the tablet worldwide.

I still hold out some hope for the Surface with Windows 8 Pro, particularly if it ships with the new 7-watt i5 chip from Intel, which would extend the battery life to as much as 10 hours (at the rumored expense of lower clock speeds) and if it comes with a larger SSD. But those are ifs; the reality could be not so pretty: Windows Supersite superstar Paul Thurrott -- who's been tweeting authoritatively about the Surface Pro, almost as if he has one in hand -- says, "Surface Pro gets a hair over five hours of battery life." That's not a comforting thought for Surface zealots.

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