PC sales should remain strong over the next year due to many factors, including low prices, the influence of emerging markets worldwide and continuously growing demand for portable computers, according to research released Thursday by IDC.

Although IDC foresees a gradual decline in the overall growth rate of PC sales over the next few years, the study represents a fairly significant revision to a weaker forecast released by the firm in March. IDC's most recent study predicts that PC shipments will grow worldwide by 11.4 per cent in 2005, to 199.2 million, and by 9 per cent to 217 million in 2006, whereas the March report predicted worldwide growth of just 9.7 per cent for 2005 and 8.6 per cent for 2006.

Small markets drive growth

"All of the [major] markets were actually stronger than we expected in the first quarter [and] the biggest change was in ... smaller volume but faster growing regions," said Loren Loverde, director of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. PC shipments in markets such as Latin America, the Middle East and Africa will continue to grow by over 20 per cent.

Major world markets such as China and Western Europe exhibited especially strong first quarters, and IDC predicts that consumer-driven demand for laptops will aid growth in the US in 2005. Consumer sales got Western Europe off to a strong start this year, a trend that should continue throughout the year even as a worldwide replacement cycle - when businesses update obsolete hardware - ends.

Consume, consume, consume

The growth across the globe this year will be mostly consumer driven, with one notable regional exception being China, where commercial sales have been strengthened by the nation's booming economy, IDC said.

However, Loverde clarified that IDC isn't backing off its forecast that PC industry growth will slow.

"We're not changing the view that the market is expected to slow down," he said. "It really was a combination of surprise circumstantial growth. We've seen relatively strong growth over the past couple of years, and we were a little aggressive [in earlier forecasts] on how fast it would slow down."

Loverde added that IDC does not expect shipment growth to fall below 8 per cent at any time for the rest of the decade.