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The global tech giants will be pleased to hear this. We’re still buying devices in their billions, with little sign of a slowdown in sight. There’s one big exception to that rule though: we’re buying less PCs than ever.
In fact, reports tech research house Gartner, worldwide combined shipments of devices (PCs, tablets and mobile phones) are projected to reach 2.32-billion units in 2013, a 4.5% increase from 2012.
The vast majority of that growth however comes from tablets and smartphones, especially among those at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. Tablet shipments alone are expected to grow 42.7% this year, with shipments reaching 184-million units. The mobile phone market meanwhile is projected to grow 3.7%, with volume of more than 1.8-billion units.
By way of contrast shipments of traditional PCs (desk-based and notebook) are forecast to total 303-million units in 2013, down 11.2% decline from last year, and the PC market, including ultramobiles, is forecast to decline 8.4% in 2013.
Gartner does suggest though that ultramobiles, which marry the touch screen functionality of tablets with ease of typing offered by a physical keyboard.
“Although the preference is for dedicated devices, we see the opportunity for hybrid ultramobile to marry the functionality of a PC and the form factor of the tablet. Users that have to balance work and play will find that the advantage of buying and carrying one device outweighs the compromise in the full experience that single devices can deliver,” says Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “Users who are not limited by their disposable income will likely have a basic tablet as a companion device to their ultramobile on which most of their consumption activities will take place.”
That said, Gartner reckons we shouldn’t expect ultramobiles to be a massive hit.
“While consumers will be bombarded with ads for the new ultramobile devices, we expect their attention to be grabbed but not necessarily their money,” says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.
That makes sense. Prior to the release of the original iPad, a number of traditional PC makers had a go at making hybrid devices with touch screens and keyboards. The only thing that’s really changed in the interim is that touch screens are lot better and Windows has an offering that even vaguely makes sense on a touch screen.
Add in the fact that you can easily get peripherals that effectively give your tablet the same kind of functionality as an ultramobile and the business case seems a little warped.
Growth from the bottom
While you might be more likely to buy a tablet, the companies making them will be hoping that their customers by a lot more of them. This is because the shift towards smaller tablets (successfully driven by Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire range) has driven prices down. Even Apple has seen impressive sales of its iPad Mini after once refusing to go for anything other than the 10-inch form factor.
The mobile phone market meanwhile will continue to experience steady growth, but the opportunity for high average selling price smartphones is now ending. Growth is expected to come from mid-tier smartphones in mature markets and low-end Android smartphones in emerging markets.
That could be good news for the likes of Nokia, which provides pretty decent smartphones at a relatively low cost with its Lumia range. But, says Gartner, it still faces some pretty big challenges:
“Windows Phone challenges in the smartphone market remain the same, with the need to bring on board more developers and enrich the ecosystem, as well as turning the Windows Phone brand into a cool smartphone brand. While there are clear benefits to the acquisition, such as channel strength, carrier relationship and emerging-market knowledge, the brand and ecosystem do not directly benefit from it,” says Milanesi.
Tied with continuing decline in the PC market, that means Windows is unlikely to see overall growth again until 2014.
By way of contrast, Gartner predicts Android will remain the leading device operating system, as it is on pace to account for 38% of all device shipments in 2013.
It also reckons that we’re unlikely to replace our mobile phones with any piece of wearable technology in the near future. Instead, they’re more likely to be companion devices for a good few years. Less than one per cent of consumers will actually replace their mobile phones with a combination of a wearable device and a tablet by 2017, it says.
“For wearables to be successful, they need to add to the user experience by complementing and enhancing what other devices already offer. They also need to be stylish yet practical, and most of all hit the right price,” says Milanesi. “In the short-term, we expect consumers to look at wearables as nice to have rather than a “must have,” leaving smartphones to play the role of our faithful companion throughout the day.”