What If the PC Never Bounces Back?

There won't be much of a bounce for the struggling PC market immediately after Microsoft's (NAS: MSFT) Windows 8 hits the market in a few weeks.

Industry tracker IDC now sees worldwide PC unit growth climbing a mere 0.9% for all of 2012. Things are even bleaker closer to home. IDC's research points to a forecast calling for a 3.7% decline, marking the second consecutive year that desktop and portable PCs have fallen.

The only real surprise in IDC's study is that it sees reasonable shipment growth in the years to come. IDC forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 7.1% from 2013 to 2016. Its previous projection called for a heartier 8.4% growth rate from 2012 through 2016.

Don't be surprised if that 7.1% figure is whittled down as time goes by.

The box makers are in trouble. There's a reason the market shook its head at Dell (NAS: DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) last week after they posted disappointing quarterly results. Dell and HP saw PC sales fall 14% and 10%, respectively.

It's true that computer manufacturers are holding back on shipments ahead of Windows 8, but what if the demand isn't there?

It's easy to point to the sovereign-debt crisis in Europe and general slowing in Asia, but the bigger culprit here appears to be the mobile trend that finds consumers relying on smartphones and tablets for their basic computing needs. This is obviously bad news for Microsoft, Dell, and HP, which have really failed to make a dent in these "good enough" computing gadgets.

Isn't this what's really slowing the PC industry? All of the arguments blaming the slowdown on the global malaise fail to explain why consumers are gobbling up devices powered by Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iOS and Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android.

There's clearly a hearty appetite for Android smartphones and Apple tablets. The rush to buy a new computer -- even after Windows 8 hits the market -- isn't likely to be there in a sustainable way. There will be steady demand for PCs in the corporate market, but the consumer has moved on for the most part.

The desktop and laptop markets aren't going to bounce back.

Does not compute
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