China Undermines PC Industry, as Smartphones Take Hold Around the World

For many industries hurt by slow growth, there is China and there is the rest of the world. As consumer and business activity slows in the old world of Europe and the United States, the wildly expanding economy of the People’s Republic creates powerful demand for all sorts of goods and services, both for those originated inside its borders and for importers. The personal computing (PC) industry recently discovered that it can no longer count on China. More than its economy, it is the global move away from PCs to portable devices that will further hurt the aging industry.

A new IDC research study on the global PC outlook shows:

Worldwide PC shipments are now expected to fall by -9.7% in 2013, further deepening what is already the longest market contraction on record.


Leading this trend is China’s revised forecast, which calls for a double-digit decline in shipments this year compared to 2012, as channel sources report high levels of stagnant inventory and continued enthusiasm for tablets and smartphones.

Tablet sales might be a rescue for companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Samsung. Huge PC firms, especially Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL), do not have that lifeline. But the strength of tablet sales has slowed as well, leaving the smartphone as the last man standing.

IDC research on the global tablet outlook shows:

Faced with growing competition from larger smartphones and the prospect of new categories such as wearable devices diverting consumer spending, International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker modestly lowered its tablet forecast for 2013 and beyond. The company now expects worldwide tablet shipments to reach 227.4 million units in 2013, down from a previous forecast of 229.3 million but still 57.7% above 2012 shipments.

The news is hardly devastating, but it does represent what appears to be a relentless trend. The companies that control the smartphone sector, once again primarily Apple and Samsung, have brighter futures that those that never got a foothold in the smartphone industry at all.