2008 Global PC Shipments Predicted To Climb -- For Now

Worldwide PC shipments are forecasted to total 293 million units in 2008, up 10.9 percent from 2007 shipments of 264 million units, according to technology research firm Gartner.

"I think that fundamentally, the PC market is in good shape," said George Shiffler, research director at Gartner. "But the question is: are these fundamentals strong enough to maintain double digit growth?"

Those fundamentals include robust emerging market growth. While the bulk of PC sales are in North America, the emerging market makes up about 45 percent of the total market, and includes China, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Emerging market PC unit shipments grew 22 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007, accounting for 60 percent of worldwide PC unit growth, according to Gartner research.

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The demand and momentum for mobile PCs also provides a good cushion for the market, Shiffler said. He cited improvements in technology and design which have helped to cut costs and also "improved their value proposition relative to desk-based PCs."

A third factor that bodes well for PC shipments is replacement cycles. Shiffler said that replacements account for 60 percent of PC shipments worldwide and nearly 80 percent of U.S. PC shipments.

The last major replacement cycle for desk-based PCs was from 2004 to 2005. Gartner's replacement model projects that desk-based PCs are on track to experience another, but substantially more modest replacement cycle, from late 2008 to early 2010.

However, there is a flip side of that coin: the struggling U.S. economy and surprisingly, Microsoft's Vista OS, could negatively impact PC replacements.

"One possibility is that if the economy continues towards a recession, there could be a delay in replacements. "The lifetime of a desktop could possibly be stretched out," Shiffler said.

"Also, there is an incentive downside in the market: a lot of companies are planning to migrate to Vista in 2009. It's still in the planning stage, but people may question whether you replace a 4-year-old desktop now or hold on and move to Vista in 2009. If you migrate after the fact it might be more costly but may be a risk worth taking."

Other reasons for worry: the economy in the emerging market of China may go south after the Olympics, Shiffler said, and may create a real potential for a very sharp economic downturn that could reverberate in other markets.

"I think that people may be a bit too rosy or optimistic about how little emerging markets could be affected," said Shiffler. "The emerging markets around the globe are critical because their growth rate was approximately three times the size of mature markets, so if that goes down, the whole market could take a hit," said Shiffler.

The bottom line is that PCs are not immune to recession. The good news? Shiffler doesn't foresee a market crash and "even under the worst circumstances, envision anything like 2001, when the global economy suffered a slowdown and PCs took a pretty good hit both globally and in the U.S."