Gartner: Device Shipments Break 2.4B Units In 2014, Tablets To Overtake PC Sales In 2015

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The gradual decline of the PC industry, spurred on by the rapid rise of mobile computing, continues apace. Today the analysts at Gartner have published their latest forecasts for global PC, tablet, “ultramobile” and mobile phone shipments: they are set to break 2.4 billion units, and nearly 88 percent of that number will be attributable to mobile phones and tablets — specifically devices built on Google’s Android operating system, which on their own will account for nearly 1.2 billion devices.

But while many argue that tablets will become “the new PC,” we’re not yet at the point where tablets are outnumbering PC sales on their own.

There will be 256 million units of devices like Apple’s iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and the Kindle Fire to be shipped this year versus 308 million PCs (these include “traditional” models, defined as netbooks and desktop devices, and “premium” ultramobiles, which are laptop/tablet hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga).

Gartner predicts the tipping point in favor of tablets will happen in 2015, when there will be nearly 321 million tablets shipped, versus close to 317 million PCs.

Worldwide Device Shipments by Segment (Thousands of Units)

Device Type 2013 2014 2015
Traditonal PCs (Desk-Based and Notebook) 296,131 276,221 261,657
Ultramobiles, Premium 21,517 32,251 55,032
PC Market Total 317,648 308,472 316,689
Tablets 206,807 256,308 320,964
Mobile Phones 1,806,964 1,862,766 1,946,456
Other Ultramobiles (Hybrid and Clamshell) 2,981 5,381 7,645
Total 2,334,400 2,432,927 2,591,753

Source: Gartner (June 2014)

(Note on terminology: “shipments” is Gartner’s classification for how many devices are sent retailers, carriers and others for sale to end users. You can think of them as closely correlated (but not exactly the same as) sales. A shipment is a guess on how many will be sold based on previous performance, which means that sometimes if sales are disappointing/surprisingly good there will be a correction, with lower/higher shipments in subsequent periods.)

Interestingly, while sales of PCs are inevitably declining, as they have been for years, 2014 is seeing something of a slowdown in that trend. As Microsoft forced the hand of many people to move off Windows XP by dropping support as it pushes hard on new versions of its operating system (and new devices to run it), that’s apparently had an effect.

After declining 9.5 percent in 2013, the global PC market (desk-based, notebook and premium ultramobile) is on pace to contract only 2.9 percent in 2014, something that Gartner research analyst Ranjit Atwal refers to as a “relative revival.” (You can almost imagine the weak smile he might make when he says it, too.)

“Business upgrades from Windows XP and the general business replacement cycle will lessen the downward trend, especially in Western Europe,” he writes. “This year, we anticipate nearly 60 million professional PC replacements in mature markets.” But that won’t be a lasting trend: As you can see in the table above, every other category of device will grow in the next year, while PCs by 2015 will be back below 2013 levels.

But while tablets, with screens larger than your average smartphone, appear on one hand to be the more natural heir to PCs, they, too, are seeing some maturation. Gartner says that these devices have already moved on from “early adopter” to “late adopter” in more developed markets, and that will have a knock-on effect both in terms of the rate of sales, and in terms of what models will be in demand.

While Apple’s iPad, at the premium end of the tablet spectrum in terms of features and pricing, has long dominated the tablet market — indeed, you could say that the tablet market didn’t even really exist before Apple made its move into it — that has been shifting and will continue to do so.

“The next wave of adoption will be driven by lower price points rather than superior functionality,” writes Atwal.

Gartner also predicts diverging interests in tablets, depending on who is doing the buying: developed, mature markets will look for larger screens. Emerging markets will be more keen for “phablets,” the hybrid devices that look either like strangely large phones, or small tablets.

Overall, the tablet market, Gartner says, “will see a relative slowdown in 2014,” although the 256 million units that it predicts will be shipped in 2014 is still up 23.9 percent from 2013.

But as with many things, one segment’s slowdown is another’s distant dream. Remember that PCs are seeing constant declines, and even mobile phones are growing significantly slower than this: the 1.9 billion units that will be shipped in 2014 is up only 3.1 percent on the year before.

Smartphones are now the norm

Within mobile phones, smartphones are very much becoming the norm rather than the rising trend. They will account for 66 percent of all mobile sales in 2014, and Gartner projects that number to be 88 percent in 2018.

It’s a mark of how far along some developed markets have come, and how far down in price smartphones have gotten. The fact that there will still be a market for feature phones in 2018 is the remarkable stat here.

While Android’s continuing dominance in the mobile segment should not be a surprise to anyone, what may be more interesting is insight into how it will continue to be the leader for some time to come, with a heavy dose of fragmentation behind it (“others” are the second-largest category, with 660 million devices in 2014, more than iOS/Mac and Windows combined). Gartner says the world will see shipments of Android rise by 30 percent in 2014, compared to 15 percent for iOS devices.

The wider trends for bigger screens, and smaller tablets, has largely been resisted by Apple up to now (exceptions: a slightly longer screen in the iPhone 5 generation; and the iPad mini). But Gartner predicts it will finally make their way to Cupertino:

“We expect the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 6 will attract pent-up demand for users who want a larger screen,” writes Annette Zimmermann, another research director at Gartner. Apple, of course, has not officially said a thing about what this alleged iPhone 6.

And what of Microsoft, once-mighty Nokia and the Windows Phone operating system? They remain at a “low base” in 2014, with only a 4% market share. This will increase modestly by 2018 to 10 percent — that is, if you don’t think we may see some other radical change upset even that trajectory in the next three years.

Gartner’s overall 2.4 billion figure (2.433 billion to be more precise) is up 4.2 percent on 2013 shipments. And as a point of comparison, it’s a slight decline on the previous overall figures that Gartner put out for 2014 (2.474 billion), but an increase in proportion for the performance of Android-based devices, revised up by around 100 million.

Worldwide Device Shipments by Operating System (Thousands of Units)

Operating System 2013 2014 2015
Android 898,944 1,168,282 1,370,893
Windows 326,060 333,419 373,694
iOS/Mac OS 236,200 271,115 301,349
Others 873,195 660,112 545,817
Total 2,334,400 2,432,927 2,591,753

Shipments include mobile phones, ultramobiles (including tablets) and PCs

Source: Gartner (June 2014)

Image: Flickr