The economic slowdown has led Gartner to revise its 2008 worldwide PC shipments forecast downward slightly but the analyst firm is still predicting a strong year, particularly in the mobility space.

Gartner is forecasting worldwide PC shipments of 293 million units for 2008, growth of 10.9 per cent over the 264 million units shipped in 2007. That's down slightly from their original forecast of 11.6 per cent growth, and the firm warns growth could fall further, into single digits, if the global economic situation worsens further.

"We had concerns about how the economic slowdown in the US, that now looks like it is a recession, is going to play out," said George Shiffler, research director at Gartner. "But even though it's coming down, 10.9 per cent growth is still quite strong."

Half of the downward revision is attributable to the US economy, with weakness also being seen in Western Europe and Japan. Shiffler says Canadian growth will be slower as well. Gartner is predicting Canadian growth of 2.2 per cent for 2008, revised downward from the 4.5 per cent originally forecast.

"There is some concern about how a US recession might play out in Canada," said Shiffler.

While during the last recession PC shipment growth went negative, with a downside for the 2008 forecast in the high single-digits Shiffler says he doesn't see that happening this time. Indeed, despite the downward revision Shiffler says the PC market remains strong, particularly in the mobility space. Gartner is predicting 25 per cent growth in the mobile market, such as laptops and notebooks, off from last year's 33 per cent growth. Desktop shipments are forecast to grow just 1.2 per cent in 2008, down from 4.2 per cent growth in 2007.

"The world is really going mobile," said Shiffler. "Desktops are still a starter system for many people in emerging growth markets and for certain things you still want a desktop system, but more and more people are moving to mobiles."

A positive factor that will drive growth in 2008 is the beginning of another hardware refresh cycle, which generally occurs every four years for desktops and three years for notebooks. The last major refresh cycle, an echo of Y2K, was 2004/05, meaning we're due.

"It's not going to be as strong as 2004/05, but there's going to be a little oomph there that will give the market a push," said Shiffler.

Somewhat paradoxically, Shiffler says Windows Vista may take a little wind out of this year's desktop replacement numbers, with many businesses looking to synch their hardware refresh cycle with their Vista migration plans. And most businesses, he says, are planning their Vista migrations for 2009.

"So you might have a stronger year next year," said Shiffler. "Unless this US recession becomes worse (than expected) 2009 is going to shape up to be a pretty good year.

North of the border and some three months into 2008 CDW Canada is not seeing any slowdown in shipments says Daniel Reio, manager, product marketing with the Toronto-based technology product and services provider. "From a growth rate perspective there's still lots of interest in PCs," said Reio. "I haven't really seen any slowdown."

There's still lots of opportunity for refresh, he says, and there's still lots of people using older technology that are seeing the benefits of newer hardware. He also echoes Gartner, saying mobility is particularly hot for CDW.

"We're seeing a lot of interest in notebooks and people moving to mobility, being able to be a bit more untethered," he said. "The message we're bringing to customers today is mobility is where it's at."

One category of mobility generating a lot of interest is the ultra-portable space, including Apple's MacBook Air and Lenovo's X300, which Reio says are generating renewed excitement in the category.

"As people are getting more and more mobile they're realizing they don't need some of the features a full-blown notebook would have," said Reio. "They're more than willing to take the portability of some of these new machines."