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Gartner Projects Modest PC Growth for 2009

Continued resiliency in the consumer market and an improving global economy has Gartner feeling more optimistic in its preliminary fourth-quarter PC sales forecast.

The research firm now predicts worldwide PC shipments will total 298.9 million units in 2009, a 2.8 percent increase from 2008.

It's a marked improvement over the first half of the year, when Gartner was projecting a near-double-digit decline for the year.

"Basically, things didn't play out like we expected them to. When we were making our forecasts a year ago we were looking at the fourth quarter falling off the table. The economic situation looked pretty horrible," George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, told InternetNews.com.

Instead, two things happened: The economy didn't fare as badly as had been anticipated and the PC market held up better than expected in the face of the economic downturn.

Now we're looking at a fairly good fourth quarter year-over-year -- but 2008 was so bad that any growth will be better by comparison, Shiffler noted.

And that's just units shipped into retail. There's still the issue of average selling prices, which Gartner said will fall.

The researcher now forecasts the market value of global PC shipments to now total $217 billion for 2009, a 10.7 percent decline from 2008. Gartner is now projecting the market value of PC shipments to reach $222.9 billion in 2010, a 2.6 percent increase over 2009.

But that's why the consumer side of PC sales have held up better than corporate sales, even with double-digit unemployment, Shiffler said.

"PCs have come down in price and they are not the purchase decision they used to be," he told InternetNews.com. "You can get a reasonably priced PC for $500. That, combined with the fact PCs are a much more integral part of people's lives -- where they used to be much more of a discretionary purchase -- [is] one reason we think the consumer market has held up as well as it has."

A Windows 7 effect?

Despite the report of big sales on launch day, Gartner still does not believe Windows 7 will have a significant impact on PC sales.

"On the consumer side, I don't think people buy for the sake of a new OS. The buzz surrounding Windows 7 is better than Vista, but unless I'm in the market for a new PC, I'm not going to buy one just because a new version of Windows is out," Shiffler said.

"On the professional side, we have some concerns that large enterprises will try to postpone to the end of the year," he added. "If you're a large enterprise, you have to make sure your apps work with the new OS and you also want to wait until your software vendors are making Windows 7 compatible versions. History says that takes about a year to 18 months for that to happen."

For that reason, Gartner expects next year's numbers to be a little lopsided for both halves of the year. A solid pickup in the first half will look great against the terrible first half of 2009, while if businesses do jump on Windows 7 in late 2010, it will help the year perform well against 2009.

As a result, Gartner projects 2010 PC shipments to reach 336.6 million units, a 12.6 percent increase over 2009.

Mobile going strong

Gartner noted the sales trend follows the current trend of laptop growth and desktop shrinkage. Mobile PC shipments are on pace to reach 162 million units in 2009, a 15.4 percent increase over 2008. Desktop PCs are expected to total 136.9 million units in 2009, a 9 percent decline from 2008.

In 2010, mobile PC shipments are expected to reach 196.4 million units, a 21.2 percent growth rate over 2009, while desktop PCs will reach 140.2 million units for 2.4 percent growth. Mini-notebook shipments, included in overall mobile PC shipments, are forecast to reach 29 million in 2009 and will grow to 41 million shipments in 2010.

The projections are only preliminary and Gartner expects to release final fourth quarter figures in a few weeks.