Are PCs Going Extinct?

PC makers better learn to start thinking outside of the box.

Computer sales continue to slip, especially closer to home, as companies cautiously watch their spending and consumers flock to “good enough” tablets and smartphones for their basic computing needs.

That isn’t just an opinion. Studies back it up, and the earnings reports out of the big PC makers later this month will likely confirm the trend.

Industry tracker Gartner issued its PC shipment report for the quarter ending in June on Wednesday afternoon, and it wasn’t pretty. The number of PCs shipped worldwide during the past three months fell 0.1% compared to the same three months in 2011.

Oh, and that’s the good news.

Gartner’s study shows that 15.9 million PCs were shipped in this country during the quarter, a sobering 5.7% decline from the number of units moving during last year’s second quarter. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Acer, and Toshiba all suffered double-digit percentage declines. Dell (DELL) suffered a 9.5% decline in the number of PCs it shipped during the period.

Apple (AAPL) was the lone gainer among the five largest PC players in this country, but even that 4.3% advance is a far cry from the growth that Apple is experiencing with its other product lines.

‘Good Enough’ Is More Than Enough

This isn’t necessarily a troubling sign for the economy. It’s merely confirmation of the trend that has been emerging over the past couple of years with Web-savvy smartphones and tablets replacing the functionality that many users previously expected out of their PCs.

Folks relying on their PCs for rigorous spreadsheet crunching, design work, and even gaming may not be ready to let go of their desktops and laptops, but there’s a growing segment of the market that’s just fine with browsing the Web, checking email, and playing apps. This is part of the “good enough” computing trend where cheap tablets and accessible smartphones are sufficient to get the job done.

PC sales in this country have been running negative for several quarters, yet tens of millions of smartphones and tablets are finding their way into our lives.

It’s too soon to compare the desktop computer to the VHS machine or vinyl record player, but we keep taking steps in that direction.

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Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.

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