Gartner: Tablets sap PC demand; PC ecosystem cringes

Gartner says: "We expect growing consumer enthusiasm for mobile PC alternatives, such as the iPad and other media tablets, to dramatically slow home mobile PC sales."

Gartner on Thursday cut its PC demand outlook as consumers increasingly opt for tablets.

According to the research firm, global PC shipments will hit 387.8 million in 2011, up 10.5 percent from 2010. Now that forecast represents good growth, but Gartner was expecting a 15.9 percent increase.

In 2012, PC shipments are projected to be 440.6 million units, up 13.6 percent from 2011. Gartner had been expecting 2012 unit growth of 14.8 percent.

The projections seem to indicate that tablets do have some cannibalization effect on laptops. Gartner analyst George Shiffer said in a statement:

We expect growing consumer enthusiasm for mobile PC alternatives, such as the iPad and other media tablets, to dramatically slow home mobile PC sales, especially in mature markets. We once thought that mobile PC growth would continue to be sustained by consumers buying second and third mobile PCs as personal devices. However, we now believe that consumers are not only likely to forgo additional mobile PC buys but are also likely to extend the lifetimes of the mobile PCs they retain as they adopt media tablets and other mobile PC alternatives.

However, the enterprise market is expected to deliver double-digit growth in 2011 and 2012 due to a strong upgrade cycle. But tablets are delaying some PC upgrades.

You can expect the tablet as PC replacement drumbeat to pick up. At Morgan Stanley's technology investment conference on Wednesday, Microsoft CFO Peter Klein had a notable exchange with analyst Adam Holt. Here's the recap: Holt: If you look around the room like this, you see a lot of tablets and you see a lot of devices that I think people probably bought themselves.

Klein: I see a lot of laptops, too.

Holt: We see a lot of laptops as well. The question is, do you think there's any impact from either the bring-from-home device in the corporate landscape or the tablet in the corporate landscape in terms of impacting the trajectory of the upgrade?

Klein: Yes. There's no question that tablets provide a really exciting opportunity to the market all out. I think we've seen more of that in sort of consumer secondary device than we've seen it in businesses, although you are starting to see it come into business.

I think that going forward that's really an opportunity for us. When I think about the strength of Windows and what Windows can bring to the tablet form factor, particularly in businesses, whether that's access to mission-critical applications, whether that's different UIs like a pen, and the ability to write and draw on the tablet, I think that's a real interesting opportunity. So I think it's nascent but incredibly interesting going forward how tablets are used within businesses.