IDC: Sluggish economy won't slow hot laptop sales

Demand for portables is giving worldwide PC shipments a significant boost

Forget the sluggish economy. Worldwide demand for laptops is driving the PC market into an area of solid growth for the next several years, according to a study just released by IDC.

The research firm predicted that global PC shipments will grow by 15.7 percent this year, hitting 311 million units. The IDC report issued Wednesday also projects that worldwide PC growth will remain in double-digits through 2011. That growth might slip to around 9 percent in 2012, when analysts expect annual shipments to surpass 482 million.

What's boosting the outlook, according to IDC, is the increasingly strong demand for portable computers.

"We continue to see a rapid transition to portable PCs around the world, even as economic pressures rise," said Loren Loverde, director of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, in a statement. "The trend reflects the increasing importance of computing, not just in the home or office, but as an integrated part of our lives. Falling prices, more design choice and competition for PC makers to capture this market continue to drive a rapid transition."

IDC noted that desktops and x86 servers rang in about 37 million shipments in the US alone during 2007. That number is expected to drop to 35.5 million this year while shipments of portable are projected to grow from 30 million last year to 35.3 million in 2008.

Worldwide, IDC counted 161.1 million shipments of desktops and x86 servers in 2007. The researcher estimates that worldwide shipments will increase to 163.2 million this year. Meanwhile, IDC projects a huge worldwide leap in laptop shipments, from 108 million last year to 148.2 million in 2008.

"There's a lot of demand for laptops right now because there's the ability to do so much more with them at a much lower price," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "It used to be that a decent notebook was twice the price of a desktop, but couldn't do nearly as much, like games, video and multi-tasking. Battery life was short, too, limiting the places you could use them. Now, you can go almost anywhere in a city, bring your laptop along, and be able to surf the Web, do your banking, check your email, IM with your pals and download music."

This latest report comes in sharp contrast to one that IDC released in April, when it found that PC shipments in the US had taken a sharp hit in the first quarter of 2008 because of a sluggish economy. At the time, one analyst predicted that buyers would put off buying new PCs for up to a year.

""The first half of '08 is definitely looking sluggish," IDC analyst Doug Bell told Computerworld. "At first glance, I'd say we'll be bringing our forecast down. I think companies and individuals will be putting off spending for six months to a year. There are a handful of drivers, but it will take more time to make a purchase."

Bell also said he thought that a lot of desktop and laptop purchases would be pushed off until 2009. He also said the US economy hadn't yet affected worldwide PC sales, but it might further into 2008.

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