It was claimed by one market watcher this week that tablets will outsell notebook computers during 2013. By 2016, says another, slates’ share of the PC market will have surpassed all other devices combined.
The research firm in question is Canalys, and it reckons Wintel’s share of the PC market will drop from 72 per cent in 2012 to 65 per cent this year on the back of a five per cent fall in unit shipments. The trend has been established, and come 2016, desktops, notebooks and what few netbooks remain will together account for just 41 per cent of the PC market.
The remaining 59 per cent - some 389 million units in all, Canalys estimates - will be tablets.
Canalys sees this as a sign that many buyers, consumers in particular, have come to realise that tablets and phones are sufficient for their computing needs. If all you’re doing is checking email, posting Facetweets and buying stuff from Amazon, you don’t need an old-style PC, surely?
So Microsoft and Intel are stuffed then, yes?
Not necessarily. Makers of Wintel kit and their two key component suppliers are realists and have already seen the way the market is going. Windows 8 is a tablet operating system with an older desktop OS built in for backwards compatibility. Its unfamiliar primary user interface may dissuade some laptop and desktop buyers from investing in a new machine, at least for the time being, but it shouldn’t put off folk who specifically want a tablet and don’t fancy an iPad or an Android device.
While it’s fair to say, as Canalys does, that Windows 8 has failed to reinvigorate the desktop and notebook markets, that shouldn’t be seen as a sign that the Wintel PC is in trouble. The old/i> Wintel PC is having a tough time, but a new Wintel PC is emerging, and definitions of market segments may need to change accordingly.
Microsoft’s own Surface machines - the ARM-based RT and the Intel-based Pro - show the way. Canalys records these devices, even the latter, as tablets not Wintel PCs. They are not alone - other vendors are producing or preparing Wintel tablets with attachable or slide-away keyboards. At what point then do you record these so-called ‘hybrids’ as tablets, because that's their form-factor, and not as Wintel PCs, even though they are personal computers running Windows on Intel processors?
Canalys’ numbers clearly assume they will fall into the former category.
What it’s really saying, then, is that desktops and classic clamshell form-factor portables are falling out of favour and will plunge to less than half of the market in four years.
It’s too early to say whether Windows 8 will be a major tablet player, or whether its inability thus far to lift the notebook and desktop markets is a sign of its own failings - would-be buyers don’t like it - or simply that Microsoft’s new OS isn’t strong enough a draw to counter the ongoing decline in computer sales caused by the state of the world economy - would-be buyers can’t afford it.
Unfortunately, unless the Wintel PC’s evolution into a very thin, handheld touchscreen device is matched by a downward shift in pricing to compete not with Apple laptops but Apple tablets, its shift tablet-ward may not save it. ®