No Two Ways About It: Tablets are Hot, PCs are Not

The way Gartner sees it, we're all going to be living in single-PC homes in the not-too-distant future. Mom, pop, little Billy and his sister Janet won't have their own PCs anymore, and will instead share a single primary PC in the household for heavy lifting, and use a tablet for content consumption chores, like surfing the web and playing casual games.

This shift that's taking place means that secondary PCs are fast becoming relics; once they're too old to be useful anymore, they'll just die out and be replaced by a tablet. The market research firm believes this is already taking place, noting that worldwide PC shipments declined 4.9 percent year-over-year to 90.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012. Gartner's explanation is rather interesting.

Apple iPad

"Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by ‘cannibalizing’ PC sales, but by causing PC users to shift consumption to tablets rather than replacing older PCs," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. "Whereas as once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC. There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be exception and not the norm. Therefore, we hypothesize that buyers will not replace secondary PCs in the household, instead allowing them to age out and shifting consumption to a tablet."

On the surface, Gartner's analysis makes sense. Whereas little Billy may have wanted a netbook two years ago, this year he's asking for an iPad. Next year he might want the latest Android tablet, and with the introduction of several low-cost models like the $149 MeMO Pad from Asus, he's likely to get one.

Dell XPS 12 Convertible

But wait, what about Windows 8? Well, the touch-friendly operating system "did not have a significant impact on PC shipments in the fourth quarter," and unless all those hybrid devices start attracting millions of buyers, that's probably not going to change.

Don't confuse any of this to mean that the PC is dead. The category still shipped over 90 million units last quarter, after all, helping to propel HP back into the top spot in worldwide PC market share. HP now holds a 16.2 percent share of the market, skipping ahead of Lenovo in second place with a 15.5 percent share, Gartner says.