Post PC Indeed: Gartner Says 2012 PC Shipments Will Only Grow 4.4% To 368M Units

At yesterday’s Apple event, CEO Tim Cook ran through some big numbers that underscored just how strongly the iPad is pacing against PCs when it comes to consumer interest. Today, Gartner released some forecasts that underscore how that story is not set to change any time soon.

The analysts say that PC shipments are on track to grow by just 4.4 percent in 2012 — to 368 million units, as consumers continue to prioritize purchases of new tablets, and smartphones, ahead of buying new laptop or desktop computers. But at least this is a slight improvement on 2011, when Gartner said that shipments were essentially flat on 2010.

Post-PC, in this sense, is about sales rather than actual usage:

“It’s not that consumers aren’t using PCs. They are,” Gartner analyst Ranjit Atwal told TechCrunch. “It’s just that they’re using their current models and not replacing them anymore with new PCs.”

Of course, if you follow that to its natural conclusion, then eventually growing sales will translate into a tipping point for usage, although that is still a far way off. Figures out recently point to only about eight percent of Internet traffic coming from mobile devices like phones and tablets.

Gartner notes that the fact that you can do all the basics now on a device like a tablet — email, social networking and Internet access, not to mention all those apps — makes it even less of a priority to make sure that your PC is the newest and fastest of its kind. The move to more cloud services, relying significantly less on on-device storage, also takes another unique selling point away from PCs.

In the realm of sales, Atwal says that the challenge has been laid at the foot of PC makers by companies like Apple — or if we’re honest, by Apple alone — which have been setting the bar for what kind of functionality people want out of their Internet devices these days.

Products like Windows 8 could advance the case for PC makers, and we’ve seen some interesting implementations of the OS already. (I was intrigued/bemused by the Acer device that turns a Windows 8 laptop into a Windows 8 tablet, Transformer-style.) But the question is, will that be enough to sway consumers’ attention, or as Atwal puts it, “Given all the innovation that PC vendors are promising, can they get to the front of the buying queue for consumers again?”

He notes that many of the new products built on Windows 8 are not likely to make their way to the market until close to the end of this year, meaning that if PC makers are going to catch up, it won’t be in 2012.

The figures over the last few years point to PCs having had a largely dry spell for sales while products like the iPad have been seeing very swift gains.

Atwal says that in 2011, the market was flat, no growth. PC shipments totaled 350 million. In 2010, the sector saw a “blip” with growth of 13.8 percent to 350 million units. He says that was largely due to the mini-craze around notebooks and mini-notebooks. In 2009, the market grew only 5.5 percent to 308 million.

According to Cook yesterday, the iPad sold 15.4 million units last quarter — more than any single PC maker sold of its devices. HP was the nearest competitor at 15.1 million PCs for the quarter; Lenovo had 13 million PCs; Dell sold 11.9 million PCs and Acer sold 9.8 million PCs.

[Image: TarynMarie, Flickr]