Last month Gartner published its findings on the PC market in the US. There we saw shipments down 5% on the same quarter last year. In Europe, which has been blamed for many of the woes of major US corporations like HP and Dell, the pain is double what it is in the US. Sales over the fourth quarter declined by 11.7%.

This is quite an astounding decline especially when you consider that in 2011, the year before that again, it declined by 14%, which at this point seems to suggest a market that is in terminal decline.

PC Market Europe

While the economic woes of Europe over the past four years have been well documented, they still don’t explain this kind of collapse. Outside of some of the peripheral economies like those of Ireland, Portugal and Greece, the core industrial economies in the UK, France and Germany are still strong and there is still substantial consumer buying power, even if the shadow of recession is never far away.

That’s all by-the-by though. Something is happening in the PC market that points to a fundamental shift in the way people and companies are investing in technology.

While Gartner has tried to see the positives in these figures by pointing to the fact that the decline in Q4 2012 was less pronounced than it was in Q4 2011, there’s no getting away from what’s happening out there.

The PC market in Western Europe is in a downward spiral. In 2012, it experienced the second consecutive year of decline, but less steeply than in 2011, when the PC market in Western Europe decreased 14 percent. The second consecutive yearly decline indicates that the issues the PC market faces are beyond a weak economy, a poorly understood new operating system, or Ultramobiles being priced too high to generate demand," said Meike Escherich of Gartner.

And that, in a single statement, knocks many of the excuses that are being bandied about to explain the decline on the head. You can’t blame weak economies, poorly understood operating systems, or overpriced IT. There is something else.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the shift is more to do with mobile computing in the shape of tablets or smartphones pointing the way to where vendors might go to salvage the situation, but until some kind of definite study of this decline over the past 12 months is conducted no one can say for definite.

In the future, we expect buyers will not replace secondary or tertiary PCs in their households by allowing them to become obsolete, preferring instead to purchase tablets. We should see an increase in PC margins as users favor PCs with richer applications," Escherich added.

PC Sales Figures Q4

But before writing off the PC and the vendors that are selling them, there is still life in the market yet. Despite the figures in percentage, in terms of shipments, there were 15.3 million units shipped in the fourth quarter of the year, and 58 million over the year, even if this represented a decline of 8.4% on 2011.