With the advent of the iPad and soaring sales of tablets, industry experts declared that PCs would be largely replaced by touchscreen devices. It would not be long before consumers use apps instead of software programs, and keyboards would be a thing of the past.
But more recently the rise of the tablet has hit a plateau. Instead of global growth rates of 13 percent, market researchers expect an increase of only 6.5 percent worldwide. In industrialized nations, demand for touchscreen computers is even flat.
The PC, meanwhile, is not extinct. After years of stagnating sales and a boom in the tablet market, the declining demand for desktop and laptop computers is noticeably slowing.
Research firm Gartner says that after a drop of 9.5 percent in 2013, global PC sales contracted just 2.9 percent, which according to analyst Ranjit Atwal constitutes a “relative revival.”
Microsoft’s decision to abandon customer support for its Windows XP operating system as well as the general replacement cycle led businesses to upgrade their hardware, which should lessen the downward trend.
Gartner expects nearly 60 million professional PCs will be replaced in mature markets this year.
On the retail customer side, tablets are increasingly seen by consumers as an additional device rather than as a replacement for laptops.
Told by marketers that tablets will be the device of the future, many consumers have come to realize that they still need a laptop or desktop computer. They can afford to have multiple devices and dedicate each to a specific use depending on portability, seriousness of the work involved and comfort, with each device representing a different compromise.
Correspondingly, the boundaries between the various categories of PC/laptop, tablet and smartphone are blurring.
Some laptop models, with detachable touchscreens, can effectively function as tablets, and represent the attempt to offer customers two devices in one. Samsung, which does not offer such models, announced in September it would stop selling laptops in Europe because of a customer preference for tablets.
Certain smartphones, meanwhile, have increased in size so that they are virtually indistinguishable from small tablets.
Even Apple, formerly a market leader, had to respond, first with its iPad Mini, when iPad sales were squeezed by smaller 7-inch Android tablets, and now with larger iPhone 6 models in response to the successful larger Samsung devices.
At the same time, the tablet market is maturing as well, as the devices have moved from early to late adopter status in developed markets. According to Gartner, this will have an effect on both the sales activity and which models will be in demand.
Premium tablets like Apple’s iPad will come under pressure as prices come down and functionality homogenizes.
“The next wave of adoption will be driven by lower price points rather than superior functionality,” writes Atwal.
Depending on the region, Gartner sees demand for different tablets. While developed, mature markets are keen on larger screen sizes, emerging markets exhibit a trend toward “phablets,” the hybrid of smartphone and tablet.
Although Gartner predicts 256 million tablets will be shipped this year, an increase of 23.9 percent over 2013, the tablet market as a whole will experience a relative slowdown, according to the research firm.
However, in 2015, tablet sales are expected to exceed the number of PC/laptops shipped, as PC sales will again decline below 2013 figures.