Worldwide personal computer unit growth is projected to be slightly weaker in 2011 than the previous projection, according to Gartner’s latest forecast. Personal computer shipments are expected to grow 9.3% in 2011, reaching 385 million units. This is slightly lower than Gartner’s previous projection of 10.5 percent growth for this year.

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Throughout much of the last decade, computer unit growth was powered by consumers. With consumers from mature markets maintaining a tight rein on their spending in response to continuing economic uncertainty, and a lack of compelling reasons for consumers in general to replace their computers, unit growth has slowed and must once again rely on businesses to drive it.

“Consumer mobile computers are no longer driving growth, because of sharply declining consumer interest in mini-notebook,” says Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “Mini-notebook shipments have noticeably contracted over the last several quarters, and this has substantially reduced overall mobile computer unit growth. Media tablets, such as the iPad, have also impacted mobile growth, but more because they have caused consumers to delay new mobile computer purchases rather than directly replacing aging mobile computers with media tablets. We believe direct substitution of media tablets for mobile computers will be minimal.”

The research group says personal computers are transitioning from a one-size-fits-all computing platform to a more-specialized device, prized for its ability to complement other devices.

“The computer market is experiencing dramatic structural changes,” says Atwal.” “Moving forward, PCs will no longer be a market by themselves, but part of a larger device market that ranges from smart televisions to the most-basic-feature phones. Within this market, consumers and professionals will increasingly use the combination of devices that best suits their particular needs.”
Over the next 18 months, computer growth will be supported by healthy professional replacements, says Gartner.

“Businesses sharply reduced replacements and extended computer lifetimes in response to the recession,” says Raphael Vasquez, research analyst at Gartner. “Businesses have begun replacing aging computers more vigorously. We expect the growing urgency for businesses to migrate away from Windows XP will drive significant professional replacements.”

Gartner has reduced expected 2011 Japanese computer unit growth to 2.4% in response to the March earthquake and tsunami.

“Desk-based computer shipment growth has been significantly affected and business continuity plans are accelerating the shift to mobile computers and alternate computing models,” says George Shiffler, research director at Gartner. “However, the impact of Japan’s twin disasters on worldwide computer shipment growth has been minor, and personal computer vendors have so far managed the threat of Japanese component disruptions.”

— Dennis Sellers