Gartner and IDC predictions: Oops, forget what we said last time

The major industry analysts' projections seem to ignore the major dysfunction in the PC market

Gartner just released its worldwide PC, tablet, and mobile predictions, and the numbers look bad for every product that doesn't have "Android" in its name. But wait a second: Isn't Gartner the same organization that said Windows Phone would take over the market? Yes, but that was six months ago, and the world according to Gartner has turned upside down -- completely invalidating the company's previous predictions -- as it is wont to due every six months or so. The other gold-standard computer industry fortune teller, IDC, isn't any better.

As Gartner's predictions came out today, I'll pick on its fortune-telling ability first. You decide for yourself about Gartner's ability to make predictions.

Today, Gartner predicts that worldwide traditional PC shipments in 2013 will decline 7.6 percent year over year from 2012. It adds a new category called "ultramobile" that includes the Surface Pro and lighter Ultrabooks. Doing so makes the overall PC decline seem to be less: If you add traditional PCs and ultramobiles, overall PC shipments in 2013 will decline only 3.5 percent year over year, Gartner says. The Guardian quotes Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi as saying, "Winning in the tablet and phone space is critical for them to remain relevant in this shift," which is widely interpreted (perhaps incorrectly) as "if Microsoft doesn't get its tablet and smartphone act together in the next four years, Windows will become irrelevant."

The same report predicts that 354 million Windows devices will ship in 2013, compared to 293 million iOS/OS X devices -- "devices" includes desktops, notebooks, ultramobiles, tablets, and smartphones. Google's Android, of course, runs roughshod over both Microsoft's and Apple's OSes. For comparison, Gartner says 353 million PCs shipped in 2012 and 365 million in 2011. A little bit of math (353 million minus the projected 3.5 percent decline) shows that 2013's Windows PC sales will be about 340 million PCs, plus 14 million Windows Phone devices.

Compare that with the headline 18 months ago that proclaimed Windows Phone will account for 20 percent of the mobile market by 2015, according to Gartner. Five months before that, in April 2011, Gartner predicted Android would hit 50 percent of the mobile market by 2012 (that came to about 500 million units). The same month Gartner said that Symbian had hit 0.1 percent, in spite of an October 2010 projection that it would rise to a 30 percent share in 2014.

As I said, IDC is no better: It predicted last month that total PC shipments in 2013 would fall 1.3 percent from 2012. Of course, before that, it predicted an increase of 2.8 percent. It too predicted that Windows Phone would be a major hit, based apparently solely on the fact it came from Microsoft.

I wish these so-called analysts would toss out their crystal balls and grow some brass ones. They're not making serious assessments about the sorry state of the PC market, so they underestimate the cliff that the Wintel industry is hurtling toward.

Last month, before I saw the leaked build of Windows 8.1 (code-named "Blue"), I predicted a double-digit decline in desktop and notebook PCs (including Macs) shipped in 2013. Back then, I figured PC sales would drop maybe 11 or 12 percent. But having seen the early (and possibly bogus) build of Windows 8.1, I'm now willing to guess that Windows desktop and notebook sales will decline closer to 20 percent year over year, particularly if the figure takes into account returned PCs, which most stats don't.

I fully expect that by January 2014, Gartner and IDC will come up with new definitions ("ultramobile"? puh-leez) to obfuscate the sorry PC situation. I'd love it if a reputable analytical company (hello, Canalys? Horace Dediu at Asymco, can you take a swing at it?) were willing and able to publish straight-up net-after-returns sales figures for traditional Windows PCs. I'd bet their figures would show a drop of 20 percent between 2012 and 2013. Maybe more.

As for Windows Phone sales, I don't care if the Lumia is the best smartphone ever made or if Microsoft produces ads that go viral. Windows Phone and BlackBerry together won't amount to more than a pimple on the backside of the smartphone market in 2013.

Let's get real, please.

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