Is it really the death of the PC?

Two separate reports show that the worldwide market for personal computers is shrinking as consumers turn their backs on traditional PCs for other devices.

Steve Jobs's claim that the iPad heralded the beginning of a post-PC world could well be true. If the trend seen so far in 2012 continues for the rest of the year, it will be the first time since the 2001 dotcom crash that the PC market has not seen year-on-year growth.

According to IHS iSuppli's market intelligence report released Wednesday, innovations such as ultrabooks and convertible computers that had wowed audiences at Las Vegas consumer electronics show CES at the beginning of the year have failed to ignite the public's imagination. As a result the market is expected to contract by 1.2 percent to 348.7 million units, down from 352.8 million in 2011. "There was great hope through the first half that 2012 would prove to be a rebound year for the PC market," said Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for computer systems at IHS. "Now three quarters through the year, the usual boost from the back-to-school season appears to be a bust, and both AMD and Intel's third-quarter outlooks appear to be flat to down. Optimism has vanished and turned to doubt, and the industry is now training its sights on 2013 to deliver the hoped-for rebound. All this is setting the PC market up for its first annual decline since the dot-com bust year of 2001."

Meanwhile Gartner's latest preliminary report shows that worldwide PC shipments totaled just 87.5 million units in the third quarter of 2012, a decline of 8.3 percent compared with the third quarter of 2011. "A continuing slowdown in consumer PC shipments played a big part in the overall PC market decline," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. "The third quarter was also a transitional quarter before Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system release, so shipments were less vigorous as vendors and their channel partners liquidated inventory."

Now, all eyes are on Microsoft in anticipation of its Windows 8 launch, and the possibility that it will rejuvenate the market for desktop and laptop PCs and draw people away from tablets and smartphones.

However, not everyone agrees that people are turning their backs on PCs because of other devices. Eric Cador, senior vice president and general manager EMEA for HP believes that PC makers only have themselves to blame for the situation. Addressing delegates at the Canalys Channels Forum in Barcelona on Tuesday he said that it was a lack of innovation and too much focus on computing that was driving customers away: "PCs and notebooks look the same as five years ago." Despite the fact that desktops are still cheaper, easier to use, faster and better at running professional applications than any other consumer computing device, in a world governed more and more by aesthetics, customers value design and appearance as much as processor speed or hard disk capacity and as a result, look no further than a PC's boxy dimensions when computer shopping.

At the same event, Canalys CEO Steve Brazier, claimed that all that had changed in the market was its leader -- Apple -- a company not focused on distributing its own software. Therefore, rather than living in a post-PC world, we might be moving into a post-Windows world.

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