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2013 saw biggest ever drop in PC shipments

This is not exactly the happiest time of the year for PC makers, who continue to watch global shipment volumes drop as fast as the winter temperatures.

According to new data from IDC, worldwide computer sales are expected to decline more than 10 per cent by the end of 2013 — the most severe yearly contraction on record.

This is after showing a significant decline in both Q1 and again in Q2 of this year, and tablets accounting for 40 per cent of PC shipments in Q3.

So, while many folks may unwrap a new tablet or find a smartphone hidden in their stocking this year, it's much less likely anyone will be hooking up a new desktop or laptop computer.

"Perhaps the chief concern for future PC demand is a lack of reasons to replace an older system," Jay Chou, senior research analyst at IDC, said in a statement.

The firm's research reveals that the personal computer remains a primary device, used for more hours per day than tablets and phones, but as more devices saturate the mobile market, clunky PCs continue to be tossed aside.

"And despite industry efforts, PC usage has not moved significantly beyond consumption and productivity tasks to differentiate PCs from other devices," Chou said. "As a result, PC lifespans continue to increase, thereby limiting market growth."

The outlook isn't all doom and gloom for computer manufacturers, though. According to IDC, total shipments are expected to decline another 4 per cent early next year, before taking a slight turn upwards.

Still, at these rates, total PC shipments will hover just above 300 million — barely ahead of 2008 volumes. Even emerging markets, which serve as the primary growth areas for PCs, are projected to decline in 2014.

IDC places much of the blame on the emergence of two-in-one devices — specifically Windows-based smartphones and tablets, which Loren Loverde, vice president of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, said are "expected to provide some new volume for the Windows platform as well as the PC vendors and other parts of the traditional PC ecosystem in coming years."

Loverde suggested that Microsoft will make a massive dent in the tablet market, reaching 39.3 million units shipped in 2017, growing from less than 7.5 million this year.

"However, relative to a PC market size of roughly 300 million units, these Windows tablets would add just a couple per cent a year," he pointed out. They will, however, account for 10 per cent of a combined PC-and-Windows-tablet market by 2016, marking them as an important growth segment.

Last month, research firm Canalys predicted that tablets will nearly out-ship all other PC form factors combined next year, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the PC market, including desktops and notebooks.