Although the Apple iPad and other tablets have started cutting into sales of personal computers, don't expect PCs to go extinct anytime soon.
Gartner analyst George Shiffler says that despite headlines declaring the potential "death" of PCs, tablets are only expected to displace around 10 per cent of PCs by 2014. The reason, he says, is that tablets aren't likely to develop the extensive content creation capabilities that users find in PCs.
"The tablet is a consumption device primarily," he explains. "We think that as they evolve they'll acquire more content creation capabilities but they're certainly not there yet."
Gartner's latest forecasts on PC shipments made headlines yesterday when they projected that PC sales would grow by 14.3 per cent in 2010, down from the 17.9 per cent growth that the firm projected in September. Additionally, Gartner cut its projections of 2011 PC shipments to 409 million units, or roughly 16 per cent more units than will be shipped by the end of 2010. Previously, Gartner had projected that total worldwide PC shipments would increase by more than 18 per cent in 2011.
Shiffler says tablets will primarily be cutting into market share for PCs that were designed specifically for on-the-go data use such as netbooks. In other words, people who want to have quick and easy access to the Web and games while they're doing casual travel will be more likely to opt for tablets than similarly designed personal computers in the near future.
Shiffler says that if tablets want to gobble up even more of the PC market they'll have to develop stronger operating systems that are capable of handling more content-creation applications. But even then he says tablets by their nature face limits, since people aren't likely to use a touchscreen to type up large documents or reports. In the long run he sees tablets as an interesting "hybrid" species that will have its own niche market but won't end up cannibalizing either smartphones or PCs.
"They're an interesting cross between a next-generation smartphone and a PC," he says. "They kind of cross into both camps and offer a unique value proposition. They're going to take a bit of business from other markets, but mostly they're going to emerge as their own thing rather than an alternative to something else."