Reports of the PC's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

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Personal computer sales fell 1.1% in the first quarter compared to the same period in 2010, according to Gartner, but while the industry research firm lists a few possible reasons for the decline, none are compelling in and of themselves. The report on global PC sales says that consumers may have lost interest in laptops and desktops because low prices for the machines are becoming less of an attraction as buyers turn to tablets like the Apple (AAPL) iPad. Purchases by corporations have likely fallen as well, Gartner says, which makes little sense because the economy was in recovery last quarter.

"Worldwide PC shipments totaled 84.3 million units in the first quarter of 2011, a 1.1 percent decline from the first quarter of 2010, according to preliminary results," the firm announced.

As far as the effect of tablets on PC sales is concerned, "We're investigating whether this trend is likely to have a long-term effect on the PC market," remarked Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.

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The news would seem to be bad for firms such as Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Lenovo, which have been relatively slow to enter a tablet market that's dominated by the iPad 2 and may be for some time. But the death of the PC has been predicted before.

Netbooks were the last significant threat to laptops and desktops. Research firm Display Search reported in 2009 that "Consumers are expected to scoop up almost 33 million Netbooks this year, marking a sales gain of close to 100 percent from last year's 16 million," CNET reported. That rate of increase did not sustain itself, and today, netbooks are hard to find on the shelves of consumer electronics stores.

Now, analysts see tablets and smartphones as the devices that will supplant the PC. But tablets are underpowered for some uses, and smartphones have small screens and limited computing power. And PCs can now connect to 3G and 4G wireless systems, which takes away some of the advantages that tablets and smartphones might have.

PC sales could turn around and rise again -- certainly the success of the Mac line indicates that. What would be required would be for manufacturers to adapt their products to compete in a world of smaller devices -- and to lower prices. Still, each of those things is possible, so predictions of the demise of the machines are premature.


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