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PC sales to fall and fall and fall and fall and fall for the next five years

Surfaces, iPad Pro and their ilk will do okay, bad news for all other form factors

Analyst firm IDC has issued a forecast for PC sales from 2016 to 2021, and the news is bad: shipments slipping from 2016's 435.1 million units to 398.3 million in 2021, for five-year compound annual growth rate of -1.7 per cent.

“Shipments could pick up if accelerators like economic conditions, adoption of gaming, VR, and Windows 10 speed up,” says the veep for IDC's Worldwide Personal Computing Device Tracker Loren Loverde,” but he adds “even in the best case, overall growth would likely remain limited.”

The only real ray of sunshine for vendors and channel is what IDC calls a “detachable tablet”, devices like the iPad Pro or Surface Pro that can be bought as a standalone tablet but also come with a first-party keyboard. Such devices are the only type of PC that will grow more than one per cent in the next five years, but IDC's had to trim the forecast for even that type of PC because manufacturers aren't building them as fast as it previously expected.

Here's the firm's table explaining the full extent of the misery that awaits, sourced from its August 24th Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker and with all data for 2021 forecast.

Form Factor 2016 Shipments 2016 Share 2021 Shipments 2021 Share 2016-2021 CAGR
Desktop + DT & Datacenter Workstation 103.4 23.80% 86.3 21.70% -3.50%
Notebook + Mobile Workstation 156.8 36.00% 162.1 40.70% 0.70%
Detachable Tablet 21.5 4.90% 41.9 10.50% 14.30%
Slate Tablet 153.4 35.30% 108.1 27.10% -6.80%
Grand Total 435.1 100.00% 398.3 100.00% -1.70%
Traditional PC 260.2 59.80% 248.4 62.40% -0.90%
Traditional PC + Detachable 281.6 64.70% 290.3 72.90% 0.60%
Total Tablet (Slate + Detachable) 174.9 40.20% 149.9 37.60% -3.00%

Grim stuff, eh? More so when you consider that the world's population is rising and that people in nations like China and India are becoming more wealthy by the year. The latter nation, IDC reported yesterday, bought under two million PCs last quarter. That number was suppressed by the fact India's about to adopt a new tax that has seen resellers postpone purchases, but even in a good quarter the world's most populous nation only buys about 2.1 million machines. So much for the developing world riding to the rescue.

Other bright spots IDC thinks will emerge include ultraslim laptops, while the firm expects that commercial PC sales will start to grow again in 2019. ®

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