What is a “personal computer” in 2012? Do tablets count?

Most of the major technology research firms say no. As reflected in the chart above, they count PCs and tablets separately when reporting their data. “Media tablets” such as the iPad and Kindle Fire are separate from traditional desktop and notebook computers.

But increasingly it’s becoming harder to argue that these are separate markets. People who otherwise might have purchased low-end Windows notebooks or netbooks or ultrabooks (or whatever the latest name is) are opting in many cases for iPads instead. Sales of tablets, led by the iPad, have been growing, in contrast with flat Windows PC and Mac unit sales.

What would the tablet and PC market look like if it were considered one? Research firm Canalys looks at the market that way, and its numbers at right show Apple reclaiming the No. 1 spot in worldwide PC shipments (including iPads) in the second quarter. (Apple last held the position in the fourth quarter of 2011, thanks to strong holiday sales of the iPad.)

“In contrast to pads, Windows PC shipments continued to disappoint,” Canalys wrote in a wrapup of its latest findings this week. “Ultrabooks have not hit the price points that could excite large numbers of buyers and the share of the overall market taken by Windows fell to a new low of 73%. Intel’s share also hit an all-time low, falling below 70%.”

This is why so much is riding on Windows 8. Microsoft finished the new operating system this week, sending it to computer makers for installation on all sorts of machines, including tablets, in time for the holiday shopping season. The interface is meant to scale across desktop computers, notebooks and tablets, as Microsoft tries to keep its operating system at the center of computing.

Will it work? Will Windows 8 accomplish that mission? The answer to that question depends on the patience of longtime Windows users as they deal with the learning curve that comes with Windows 8’s new tablet friendly, tile-based interface, which is intended to work across tablets and traditional computers. Learning all those new commands takes some time, as we’ve documented in the past.

Microsoft is taking a gamble by trying to make one Windows interface accommodate all types of devices. But looking at these trends across the broadly defined “personal computer” market, the reasons for the company’s choice become more clear.

Bottom line, it should be fascinating to see what these charts look like in another year.

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  • guest

    The Apple spin-machine is a wondrous thing.

    Half the time, the iPad gets thrown into the “mobile” category, so that Apple appears to own mobile.

    The other half of the time, the iPad gets thrown into the PC category, so that Apple owns the PC universe.

    The iPad is NOT a personal computer. You need a personal computer to create programs that will run on an iPad. How many offices are “tablet only?” Tablets are a tiny fraction of the actual computer industry. They are a 4th screen, not a 2nd (In order: TV, computer, phone, tablet).

    When you pull the iPad out of the equation, last November, for the first time in 15 years, Apple achieved 5% of the global PC market.

    Apple for smartphones, has something like 12-14% share of the total mobile market in the U.S. (including feature phones).

    Other than the iPod, Apple has never had a mass market consumer device that owned any market. The iPad is still a niche market device (specific to a certain demographic), but, yes, Apple owns the high end tablet market for at least another Year.

    Moving the iPad sales stats from category to category may do wonders to create an illusion that doesn’t correspond with reality. But, it’s just an illusion.

    • Jurassic

      “Half the time, the iPad gets thrown into the “mobile” category, so that Apple appears to own mobile.”

      What kind of drugs formed this little nugget?

      The iPad is included in the personal computer stats for the simple reason that it (like all tablet computers) is a personal computer. Many people are buying the iPad to replace old laptop computers, or instead of a first laptop computer.

      The iPad sales is also compared to the sales other tablet computers because… wait for it… the iPad is a tablet computer.

      The iPad is also a mobile device. Currently, many people consider tablets and smartphones as mobile devices, but some also consider notebooks as mobile devices.

      “You need a personal computer to create programs that will run on an iPad.”

      Et voila! Yes, you can create programs on an iPad. You can also do many things that you can’t do on low-end laptops and netbooks. But there is nothing that you can do on a netbook that you can’t do (often better) on an iPad.

      And now for some facts:

      a) The iPhone 4S is the fastest selling and best selling iPhone to date… by far! Even with buyers holding off for the new iPhone coming out soon, Apple sold 26 Million iPhones in the last quarter.

      b) Market shares for iPhone and iPad are growing, while the shares for comparable Android devices are dropping. Since one year ago, Android phones are down 5%, iPhones are up 10%. The iPad’s market share has increased this year to 68%.

      c) Apple’s iOS is (by far) the dominant mobile OS, with more than 3-times the market share of Android’s. iOS = 66%; Android = 20%.

      • Guest

        “But there is nothing that you can do on a netbook that you can’t do (often better) on an iPad.”

        Using your iPad, display two different apps at the same time, with each taking 50% of the screen.

        I’ll wait.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-DeGrande/776147496 Bob DeGrande

          There are a number of apps that display two or more apps on the screen at the same time, whether two browser windows or a browser and a notepad, or a number of other types of apps. This is not typically the way you want to use a tablet though, you run everything full screen and swipe between apps with a gesture, I don’t use multiple windows on the screen even on my desktop, I have always used Spaces/Mission Control on Macs and virtual desktops on Linux, and Windows 8 is moving in the same direction with Windows 8. Overlapping windows are going to look as quaint as a command line in a few years.

          • Guest

            Windows 8 allows me to run multiple apps concurrently — even Metro apps. I have a glorious 24″-class screen hooked up to my PC. Who are you to say that I need 1920×1080 resolution for every app I use?

            Also, what app can I install on iPad to let me run two arbitrary apps at the same time? Not overlapping — tiled would suffice.

    • guest

      Have you ever considered that for a large portion of the population that doesn’t need the frustration and full blown nature of PCs were simply waiting for a device like iPad? For years I tried to have my parents use PCs, it wasn’t until the arrival of iPad did they start to engage with a computing device. Simply put, for a lot of people money that used to be reluctantly spent with PCs are simply going the way of iPad. So until Microsoft or anyone else can come up with a better mousetrap, the current erosion and perhaps the collapse of PC business will not be stopped.

  • Guest

    Limited-function tablets (LFTs) like iPad do but a tiny fraction of what a personal computer, or PC, does. For some less sophisticated users this might be acceptable, but for those who use a PC to do our jobs, we need more. Simple tasks like having two documents visible concurrently are impossible on an LFT and 30 years old on a PC.

    An LFT makes for a handy companion device and their novelty has spurred the category to commendable levels of sales. That said, we don’t expect LFTs to truly threaten the PCs until they gain significant added functionality, at which point they will basically become a PC.

  • Julie Smith

    Oh my god, there is a rumor floating around the office that our idiot IT Apple fanboy is going to replace all our Windows laptops with iPads. Please, please make the iPad go away.

  • Roadwarrior

    I have a PC laptop and an iPad, I find I do half my work on the iPad. When I am on the road I have opted not to bring my laptop, it is just too easy to travel and work with an iPad. Working on emails, spreadsheets & presentations are slick. If you think an iPad is a toy or novelty, then you have never really tried one.

    I am always surprised at the vitriol directed at Apple products by people who have never even tried one.

  • GW fan

    Todd, you say that Windows 8 has now been released to all sorts of machines, including tablets, but has Microsoft said what OEMs are likely to ship tablets with this OS?

  • http://about.me/samirsshah Samir Shah

    The western world is in a post-PC era. What looks like a PC (Walks like a duck, talks like a duck…) WILL NOT SELL. HENCE ULTRABOOKS WILL NOT SELL. Surface does not look like a PC and hence will sell. Android tablets will have a resurgence. Windows 8 WILL fail as a PC operating system but succeed as a tablet operating system. INTEL HAS A LOT RIDING ON SURFACE PRO.


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