Pace of Mobile Device Shift Increasing

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A new Gartner estimate shows conventional desktop and notebook PC shipments falling by one-fifth over the next four years, while tablets and smartphone sales skyrocket. The change will mean new opportunities and challenges for vendors and solution providers.

The age of the laptop and desktop are fading fast, according to new estimates by Gartner. The analyst firm predicts conventional desktop and notebook shipments will fall by as much as 21 percent between 2012 and 2017. During the same period, smartphone sales will increase 25 percent and tablet sales will quadruple.

Smartphone are already outselling PCs by five to one, mostly because they have greater marketability and a broader total addressable market. Additionally, many users still carry multiple smartphones for work and personal use. The parallel growth in tablets is speeding the decline in PC sales. By 2017, tablet and smartphone sales will outpace conventional PCs by 8 to 1.

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Some vendors expect ultrabooks – or ultralight notebook and convertible computers – to either stave off this decline or spark a massive refresh of conventional PCs. Gartner doesn’t agree. By its estimates, 9.8 million ultralights shipped in 2012; sales are expected to climb to 98 million. While this replaces much of the lost conventional PC sales, the net gain is only 4.5 percent.

Gartner says PCs are losing the attached sales battle. When smartphones it the market 10 years ago, the natural companion device was a desktop or notebook. Now, that secondary or complementary device is more often a tablet.

"Lower prices, form factor variety, cloud update and consumers' addiction to apps will be the key drivers in the tablet market," said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. "Growth in the tablet segment will not be limited to mature markets alone. Users in emerging markets who are looking for a companion to their mobile phone will increasingly choose a tablet as their first computing device and not a PC."

The decline of PCs means a further shift in the balance of power among technology vendors. Mainstay PC vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Acer will continue to feel pressure as they do not have significant presence in the mobility market. The balance of power will likely shift to Samsung and Apple, dominate the smartphone and table markets. Lenovo will likely benefit, as well, as it’s increasing its global distribution of smartphones beyond its China home market.

The shift means solution providers will have to rethink their vendor relationships, forming ties technology companies that provide not just smartphones and tablets, but also the supporting applications and infrastructure for management and maintenance services.

The channel isn’t ready for this shift. Few smartphone vendors sell handsets and services through resellers. Many Android-based tablets are sold through resellers, but solution providers still have a difficult time accessing carrier services. AT&T and Verizon are reshaping the channel programs to attract traditional solution providers and systems integrators, but it remains unclear how they will link traditional data/voice transport services to product sales.

Solution providers are benefiting from the sale of mobile device management, cloud services and mobile applications. However, their ability to capitalize on the shift to tablets and smartphones may be hampered by the factured nature of the current marketplace. To capture mobile opportunities, solution providers often have to partner with multiple vendors, which is time consuming and expensive.

Vendor consolidation will eventually follow the shift to mobile devices. However, consolidation often causes disruptions for solution providers as they have to maneuver into new programs and reset certifications and qualifications.

While many of these changes have been underway for the past three years, the pace of the shift to mobile devices is increasing. Solution providers will need to plot their strategic development – technology investments, training, skill sets and value propositions – carefully in anticipation of the increasingly mobile marketplace.

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