PC demand dips as sales of mobile devices soar

SINGAPORE - Sales of tablets and smartphones soared here last year but consumers seem to be pulling the plug on personal computers (PCs) and laptops.

The remarkable increase in sales numbers of tablets and smartphones is as clear an indication as any that mobile devices are powering the market these days and demand is "unstoppable", according to one expert.

Smartphone sales jumped about 57 per cent to 2,213,900 from 1,408,200 in 2011, while 425,100 tablets were sold, a 30.8 per cent rise from the 325,000 seen in 2011, said global consumer research firm GfK on Thursday.

The flipside to the robust figures was a slump in PC sales - from 59,600 in 2011 to 50,300 last year, a fall of 15.6 per cent. Laptop sales fared even worse - down 21.7 per cent to 308,000 from 393,400 in 2011.

Mr Gerard Tan, GfK's account director for digital technology based here, said: "Tablets and smartphones are more portable and present consumers with greater convenience, as the devices allow instant connectivity to the Internet, especially social networking sites.

"It helps that Singaporeans are generally more inclined to such lifestyle devices for both work and play."

This trend towards mobility is unstoppable, said research firm Forrester.

Mr Michael Barnes, its head of research, told The Straits Times last week that people were being permanently connected, which is resulting in a new way of engaging consumers, business partners and employees.

"People are carrying their smartphones and tablets with them all the time," he noted.

"At any moment, wherever you are, when you're making a decision, like looking for a restaurant or movie, you're able to take action, make a restaurant reservation, buy movie tickets. It's because you've the device with you and you're interacting with it."

This is different with a PC or a laptop, he said, because people have to make a conscious effort to pause what they are doing in order to access these devices.

The trends seen here are reflected globally.

Tech research firms IDC and Gartner reported last week that PC sales in the first quarter of this year were down compared with the same period last year.

The preference for mobile devices sent global PC shipments for the three months to below 80 million units for the first time since mid-2009, said Gartner.

Its United States-based research vice-president, Ms Carolina Milanesi, said in a statement: "As consumers shift away from their PCs to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PCs as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis."

IDC reported that 76.3 million PCs were sold globally in the first quarter of this year, a drop of 14 per cent from the same period last year.

Sales of smartphones and tablets seem to have no ceiling.

Gartner said more than 1.7 billion smartphones were sold last year, with forecasts that this will rise to 1.9 billion this year.

Tablets are on an even more meteoric rise: up from 116 million sold last year to an estimated 197 million this year and a stellar 266 million in 2014.

The sales graph is going in the opposite direction for PCs and laptops. There were 341 million sold around the world last year, but that will drop to 315 million this year.

Yet any claim that PCs are dying soon is unfounded.

GfK's Mr Tan said there are smaller segments in the PC market that are still growing, such as ultra-thin PCs and all-in-one computers - PCs where the brain and circuitry are built into the back of a monitor.

PCs will not die but users will not upgrade every two or three years as they have been doing, but hold on to their devices for longer, said Gartner's principal analyst, Ms Mikako Kitagawa.

She believes offices upgrading their PCs will bolster the market because they are needed for work like accessing databases and spreadsheets.

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