If there was any more bad news for PC makers in Gartner’s figures for the devices market between now and 2017, mobile and tablet makers would be fit to burst with happiness. According to this set of figures, tablet sales this year will be up 69%, while that of smartphones, excluding all other mobiles, will more than double to sales of over 1 billion units worldwide.

PC Market Globally

There is a lot to digest in the new report from Gartner entitled Forecast: Devices by Operating System and User Type, Worldwide, 2010-2017, 1Q13 Update, but one of the most striking things in the report is that probably for the first time, Gartner has actually said that the downward trend in PC sales is not just a hiccup, but a terminal decline.

This is not a temporary trend induced by a more austere economic environment; it is a reflection of a long-term change in user behavior,” Gartner said in a statement.

While everyone knew that there was a serious problem in the PC market no one was quite sure how bad it actually was. However, in recent sets of figures coming from independent researchers like Forrester and Gartner, the drop in sales has been truly awesome.

PC Problems

In retrospect, former HP CEO Leo Apotheker must be smiling over his breakfast cereal this morning. It was he who suggested that HP should leave the PC market altogether and focus on software, incurring the wrath of HP shareholders and ultimately precipitating his early departure from the company.

Since then, HP has struggled with the big will-we-won’t-we question with current wisdom suggesting they slug it out in this market. If they do stay, whether the board wants to or not, there will have to be a serious rethink around the PC business and where it’s going.

Dell is another casualty of the Rise of the Tablet/Smartphones. If this has overtones of the last Arnie Schwarzenegger Terminator movie Rise of the Machines, the reference is deliberate. In this case though it is the rise of one technology, which looks set to wipe out another technology.

Dell is currently struggling to find a new path as it looks to be taken off the public market again to operate as private company and while some of the problems here are undoubtedly the result of corporate politicking, fundamental problem lies in the PC product itself.

A bit dramatic maybe and the technology behind PCs will continue, but major changes in the market are on the way.

The trend towards smartphones and tablets will have much wider implications than hardware displacement … Software and chipset architecture are also impacted by this shift as consumers embrace apps and personal cloud," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner said.

PC, Tables, Smartphones

But let’s look at the figures. According to Gartner’s figures, the sale of worldwide device is set to rise by 9% this year to 2.4 billion units and continue to grow to 2.9 billion units annually by 2017.

Keeping in mind that by devices, Gartner is talking about the combined shipment of PCs, tablets and mobile phones, this should be good news all round.

But the way this breaks down is good for some, not so good for others. The increasing availability of low-priced tables and their expanding functionality is pushing more people to look at tablets when considering their next device investment.

Gartner Device shipments 2013.jpg
Gartner Device shipments 2013

While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device … As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis," Milanesi said.

The result is that the traditional PC market of notebooks and desk-based units is expected to decline 7.6 percent in 2013. While initially ultramobiles will be able to offset the decline somewhat in 2013 with the combined figure of ultramobiles and desktops falling only 3.5, the desktop decline will continue.

Tablet shipments on the other hand will continue to expand and not just in mature markets. According to the research, users in emerging markets who are looking for a computing device will increasingly look towards tablets as their first computing device.

Gartner Device shipments by OS 2013.jpg
Gartner Device shipments by OS 2013

This will also have implications for the sales of operating systems as the big players here slug it out. Android will continue to dominate pushed by strong growth in the smartphone market while Apple's iOS/Mac OS and Microsoft Windows battle for second place.

Smartphones will also see considerable growth as prices come down, again driving adoption in the emerging markets. Of the 1.875 billion mobile phones to be sold in 2013, 1 billion units will be smartphones, compared with 675 million units in 2012. More on this in the full (paid) report on Gartner’s website