In January, when research firm Canalys reported on fourth-quarter PC sales, it led its analysis with news that surprised few in the industry: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had surged past Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) to become the world’s leading maker of PCs and tablets combined — about 17% of the total 120 million client PCs shipped during the quarter.
Those combined numbers, though, included other telling information: Apple shipped more than 15 million iPads and 5 million Macs. Overall, tablet sales are predicted by some industry observers to exceed PC sales in 2013, a notion reinforced by the expected success of the newly released the third edition of the iPad.
The reality of the situation, however, might be more complicated. Research firm Gartner predicts 2012 worldwide PC shipments to grow 4.4%, to 368 million units, propped up by growing demand in emerging markets, with PC shipments rising to more than 400 million units in 2013.
One element that could help propel these sales is the emerging popularity of ultra-thin Ultrabooks. Another, some observers say, is Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 operating system, which has been released in beta and, upon commercial release, will feature the Metro user interface that first appeared in the Windows 7 mobile operating system, adaptability to tablets and mobile devices, and Windows To Go, which lets Windows 8 boot securely from a USB device.
So far, Ultrabooks haven’t been the hit PC vendors expected. Acer and Asus were projected to ship 200,000 and 300,000 units when they released their Ultrabooks last year. Both manufacturers disappointed, shipping around 100,000 apiece. But PC vendors aren’t giving up on Ultrabooks.
A big role for Windows 8, but also for design
The general manager of Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) client group, Mooly Eden, said earlier this year that more than 75 Windows 8-based Ultrabook designs are being produced for 2012. Lenovo’s (PINK:LNVGY) Yoga, introduced at the International Consumer Electronics Show, is one such offering. Users can convert the 17-millimeter-thick computer from a laptop to a touch-screen tablet by folding back the screen. When the keyboard is folded back, it automatically becomes disabled and serves as a stand for the tablet, eliminating the need for a separate mounting device or protective cover. Forbes notes that the touch-screen responds to touch in a way that makes it possible to use it as a piano keyboard.
While convertible PCs are hardly new to the market, Yoga’s bend-back design — versus, say, one that allows the screen to rotate — makes for a sturdier machine and is intended to provide a better variety of viewing options. The Yoga is slated for release later this fall with a starting price of about $1,199.
But nifty designs and Windows 8, despite all it might have to offer, doesn’t have many in the industry hopeful that the PC will reclaim its glory days. Consumers have moved on to smaller, lighter, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets whose high performance and Web-connectedness satisfy many of their computing needs. And yet if Windows 8 proves popular, it may go a long to way toward producing very healthy sales in the replacement PC market.