The total number of PCs shipped around the globe fell by 4.9 percent in the final quarter of 2012 when compared with the same period in 2011, according to new research published today by technology research firm Gartner.

The fall to 90.3 million units appears to be further evidence that consumers are moving towards smartphones and tablets as their primary device, rather than a traditional desktop computer or laptop.

Mikako Kitagawa, prinicpal analyst at Gartner, said that tablets weren’t so much “cannibalizing” the sales of PCs, but causing users to shift their consumption and product ownership once they felt it was time for an upgrade.

“Whereas as once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC,” she said. “There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be exception and not the norm.”

Dell was one of the largest PC manufacturers to feel the hit from 2011 to 2012 worldwide, dropping estimated shipments from more than 11.5 million to 9.2 million last quarter. HP, meanwhile, experienced the smallest fall from 14.71 million to 14.65 million.

However, the figures published specifically for the United States show that there are still a few signs of growth in specific regions. Apple, perhaps not surprisingly, bucked the trend by increasing their PC shipments from 2.04 million to 2.15 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. This was no doubt helped by the introduction of the new iMac and Retina MacBook Pro. Meanwhile, Lenovo saw its market share rise from 7.5 percent to 8.4 percent, representing an increase of 130,631 units. HP also saw growth in the United States, up to 4.66 million, although everyone else, including Dell and Acer, saw shipments fall across the country.

The news will be a hard pill to swallow for Microsoft, which hoped that the launch of its new operating system last year, Windows 8, would ignite some renewed interest in PCs and laptops running Windows.

“The launch of Windows 8 had no impact on PC demand, especially as Ultramobile products were both limited in supply, as well as being priced too high,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “The holiday season mostly saw retailers clearing Windows 7 notebook inventory or driving volume of low-end notebooks. Furthermore, the increasing choice of tablets at decreasing price points no doubt became a favorite Christmas present ahead of PCs.”

Gartner’s reseach for Europe, the Middle East and Africa paints a similar story. While HP is still the market leader, with a 19.1 percent marketshare, its PC shipments fell from 5.8 million to 5.3 million. While Acer, ASUS and Dell saw similar decreases, Lenovo was the exception, showing a 29 percent increase from Q4 2011 to 2012.

The results from Gartner are preliminary for now, and use shipment estimates rather than sales figures. Regardless, it adds further evidence to the claim that PC ownership is in decline, and that tablets are fast becoming not only desirable, but the first choice device for many consumers worldwide.

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