PC shipments predicted to return to growth in 2018 after six-year skid

Gartner projects a minor growth in PC shipments in 2018, driven by upgrades to sleeker PCs and interest in new applications like VR

Apple CEO Tim Cook declared the PC dead in a famous 2015 interview. Apparently, he's wrong, and the PC market will live another day.

Gartner is projecting annual PC shipments to return to growth in 2018, ending a historic skid that started in 2012, the year Microsoft released Windows 8.

The growth in 2018 will be minor. Gartner is projecting shipments of laptops, hybrids, and desktops to be around 272 million in 2018, growing from 266 million in 2017. PC shipments in 2016 were 268 million, according to the research firm.

There were a few bright spots in the PC market over the last few years, including the fourth quarter of 2014, when Gartner said shipments grew by 1 percent. But on an annual basis, PC shipments have been dropping and hit double-digit declines in 2015, the year Microsoft released Windows 10.

The PC shipments will return to growth because of a robust upgrade cycle, said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. PC shipments will continue to grow into 2019, when Gartner predicts shipments will hit 278 million units.

Sleeker devices with better functionality are also attracting buyers, replacing old-school PCs, Atwal said.

PC shipments were hit by a slowdown in the upgrade cycle. Microsoft also offered free upgrades to Windows 10, which ran well on older PCs, reducing the need to buy a new PC. While Windows 8 flopped, the predecessor OS, Windows 7, propelled a big PC upgrade cycle.

Last year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the PC upgrade cycle had increased to about six years, doubling from about three years.

New laptops and desktops announced at this week's CES highlight some cool features in PCs. Thinner and lighter PCs are getting higher-resolution screens, USB-C ports, LTE connectivity, and touchscreens. Laptops later this year will have Intel's superfast Optane storage.

Gaming PC shipments broke out in recent years, and shipments soared in a declining market. Game PC shipments will continue to increase with the growing interest in eSports and virtual reality, which PC makers expect will grow into a market worth billions of dollars.

Users are looking for fresher computing experiences with devices like head-mounted displays, Atwal said. Some headsets like Microsoft's HoloLens are self-contained computers, while others, like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, still require desktops with high-end graphics cards.

Outside of PCs, shipments in other device segments will also grow in 2018.

Shipments of tablets will grow to 166 million in 2018 from 165 million this year, Gartner predicted. Tablet shipments totaled 168 million in 2016.

Gartner is also projecting a growth in mobile phone shipments. Shipments will reach 1.89 billion in 2017, growing from 1.88 billion in 2016. Phone shipments will hit 1.92 billion in 2018, it predicted.

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