Tablets like the iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab are the gotta-have gadgets of the year, no doubt — but could they eventually replace the PC as your platform of choice?
Make no mistake: PCs are still big business, with consumers and companies expected to snap up more than 352 million systems this year alone, and more than 409 million in 2011. But tech analysts are cutting their forecasts in the face of surging tablet sales, and the trend is expected to continue in the coming months and years.
Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal announced Monday that he now believes consumers and businesses will have bought about 352.4 million PCs in 2010 by the end of December, a figure that represents a 14.3 increase from 2009.
Not bad, but Atwal adds that he's revised his latest projections downward from just two months ago, when he predicted that PC sales would see a 17.9 percent increase over 2009's total.
Naturally, Atwal blames slowing PC sales in part on the poor economy, with consumers and enterprise customers alike saving money by holding off on replacing their current systems.
Other factors to consider include the rise of cloud-based services, like Google Apps and Microsoft's new in-the-cloud Office applications, as well as the fact that PC makers aren't offering much in the way of jaw-dropping, gotta-have innovations these days.
That said, the "weaker consumer demand" for PCs in the coming years is also "due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad," Atwal says, adding that by about 2014 or so, tablets will "displace" an eye-opening 10 percent of all PC sales.
Why are tablets like the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy (click here for my hands-on review), and other forthcoming examples taking off with consumers? Because they "enable better on-the-go content consumption" and boast "instant-on" functionality, according to Atwal — and as the years go by, media tablets will only become more powerful and "PC-like," to the point where users may increasingly think of their tablets as their "primary computing platform."
So, is it time to declare the PC dead? Of course not, Atwal says, arguing that PCs are "still seen as necessities" by most consumers and business folk.
But gone are the days when people are replacing their PCs every year, or even every couple of years, with users instead seeing smartphones and especially tablets as "complements, if not substitutes, for PCs," particularly "where voice and light data consumption are desired," Atwal says.
One needn't look any further than the latest sales figures for the iPad to see that users are embracing tablets on a large scale. For instance, according to one estimate quoted by Fortune magazine from an analyst with investment bank Piper Jaffray, consumers bought about 8.8 iPads an hour at Apple stores on Black Friday.
And it's not just Apple-mania we're talking about here, with Samsung said to have moved an impressive 600,000 of its Android-powered Galaxy Tabs in just a few weeks.
Personally, I'm not ready to call my iPad my "primary" computer just yet. Sure, I use it all the time when I'm Web browsing in my living room, but when it's time to go to work, I fire up my desktop or laptop. Then again, I'll probably be keeping my current desktop iMac for a good three or four years, at least, while I'm sure I'll pony up for a new iPad the moment it comes out.
What about you: Can you envision the day when a tablet might be your computing platform of choice? Has that day already come? Or will you always turn to a PC first?
— Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.