Worldwide shipments of personal computing devices (PCDs), comprised of traditional PCs (a combination of desktop, notebook, and workstations) and tablets (slates and detachables), are forecast to decline from a total of 435 million units in 2016 to 418.2 million units in 2021.

According to the Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker from International Data Corporation (IDC), the figure represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.8%.

The forecast comes on the heels of a stronger than expected showing for traditional PCs in 2016, when a combination of aggressive promotional activities in the second half of the year and tightening component supply for notebooks helped to drive stronger volume across both the consumer and commercial channels in the fourth quarter, IDC analysts said. Commercial notebook shipments finished 2016 on a positive note, growing more than 2% year over year as more Windows 10 trials translated into real deployments. Meanwhile, consumer notebook shipments declined by only 1% from Q4 2015, helped by strong model launches in the Ultraslim and Convertible notebook categories.

Dramatic shifts amidst familiarity

In the tablet market, slate shipments continued to decline as expected and detachables saw a dramatic decline in the fourth quarter, largely due to the segment's dependence on individual product launch cycles from the likes of Apple and Microsoft. The absence of product refreshes in the quarter led to a year-over-year decline of 26.1% for detachables in Q4 2016 and contributed to a more tempered outlook for the entire tablet market. Despite the 2016 decline, IDC expects growth will return to the tablet market over the next five years due to the growing popularity of detachable devices.

 
IDC Shipment Forecast table fig1 (cr) Figure 1: Table illustrates IDC’s 5-year PCD shipments data and forecast.  

"Regardless of what marketers are saying, detachable tablets are simply not putting pressure on notebooks yet," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst, Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. "Consumers are just starting to graduate from old, consumption-based, slate tablets to a more productive detachable tablet. At the same time, the benefits of having a thin, touch-sensitive, productivity-based machine are shining light on the traditional PC category, causing vendors and consumers to focus on more premium devices in the Convertible and Ultraslim space."

Optimistic CAGR

Looking ahead, the outlook for traditional PC shipments has improved somewhat due to better economic conditions as well as slower sales of competing devices such as tablets and smartphones. While still in decline–traditional PC shipments are expected to fall to 252 million units in 2021, a five-year CAGR of -0.6%–the outlook has been raised slightly compared to the November forecast. Adding in detachable tablets would raise 2021 shipments to more than 308 million units with a 2016-2021 CAGR of 1.8%. Juxtaposed against the struggles of mature form factors such as slates and desktops, continued innovations should lead notebooks to take a higher share in the overall personal computing landscape, up from 36% of the total PCD market in 2016 (barely ahead of slates) to being the dominant device by 2021 with nearly 39% share while slate tablet share declines to 26%. Detachable tablets are also expected to make further inroads, going from 4.9% in 2016 to 13.4% of the total PCD market by 2021.

"As the tablet market works through the challenges of a maturing user base, the notebook ecosystem has seen success in assimilating a more mobile experience to the form factor while retaining its inherent superiority in the content creation arena, which remains critical for commercial buyers. Absent major external forces, IDC believes the notebook and traditional PC market overall will see relatively stable volumes with some growth in more mobile designs offset by declines in less mobile products," said Jay Chou, research manager, Worldwide Personal Computing Device Tracker.

 
IDC Shipment Forecast 4Q2016 fig2 (cr) Figure 2: IDC’s 4th Quarter 2016 Worldwide PCD Tracker Forecast.