Ever since Steve Jobs said, back in 2007, that we were living in a post-PC era, both PC users and non-PC users alike promptly started arguing about it. But as the years went on, and more people started turning to smartphones and tablets for everything from work to play, the idea that maybe we were past the PC as a society started to crop up. A new report from IDC suggests that the post-PC idea may be more right than anyone thought, particularly in the face of a substantial downturn set to arrive in the PC market.
The IDC report suggests that the shipments of PCs in 2013 is actually down from last year, and down in a fairly substantial way. The most recent estimates suggest that shipments for 2013 will total 314 million, which sounds good until the 2012 numbers are considered, showing shipments of 349 million. That's a loss of 10.1 percent, and double-digit losses—even the smallest of double-digit losses—aren't the kind of thing to take lightly.
What's more, the forecast only got gloomier. IDC began 2013 thinking that PC shipments would drop just 1.3 percent. Then in May, the losses swelled to 7.8 percent down. August saw the losses drop still further to 9.7 percent, up until the most recent restating at fully 10.1 percent. If IDC's numbers bear out, the end result will be that PC shipments will be approximately the same level that was seen in 2009, which was about two years before the PC industry saw its highest shipment levels ever.
Perhaps worst of all, IDC doesn't expect the train of losses to stop any time soon. IDC expects losses to carry on through 2014. However, IDC expected PC shipments to stay around the 300 million mark, or about the number delivered in 2008. This impact extends problems to Microsoft, who is still the driving force in PC sales. Windows revenue was down seven percent overall thanks to the loss of PC shipments, according to reports, and further declining PC sales aren't likely to help. Microsoft has been trying to replace the losses with steps into the mobile world, but fending off entrenched rivals and getting a piece of that market has proven difficult. So-called “2-in-1” devices powered by Windows will help stem some of the losses, but the returns are likely both long-term and insufficient to replace all the loss.
The picture, of course, isn't quite so bleak for Microsoft. There will still be plenty of PCs shipped. The idea of a post-PC era just isn't materializing the way some had projected because there are still plenty of purposes that the PC can serve. But by like token, many of a PC's functions can be approximated by a tablet. The PC design itself may have something of a shelf life, especially in the face of the growing bring your own device (BYOD) movement in which people bring the same devices used at home to work. A few good technological developments and the PC itself may well lose all relevance. That likely won't happen for years, of course, but it's still a development that needs to be factored in to future plans.
A truly post-PC era may not be coming for some time to come, but it may well arrive sooner than some ever expected. With the mobile device concept proving itself much more than a fad, the idea that mobile devices could be the go-to device the world over is not only possible, but increasingly, probable.
Edited by Alisen Downey