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PC Purchasing Set to Decline: Report

By David Needle
January 5, 2011

Personal computers down; smartphones, tablet computers and 3DTV sales up, way up. That's the forecast from a just-released report by Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

The research giant predicts consumer purchase rates of PCs and mobile phones (excluding smartphones) will decline by 39 and 56 percent respectively this year.

On the flip side, Accenture expects buying rates of 3DTVs to jump by 500 percent (a rate not that surprising for a virtually new market); tablet computers 160 percent; ebook readers 133 percent; and smartphones 26 percent. The company's annual survey found that only 17 percent of survey respondents plan to buy a desktop or laptop computer in 2011 -- a 39 percent drop from 2010.

"The research findings raise the question as to whether, in the long run, desktop and laptop PCs in the home will be increasingly replaced by a group of newer technology alternatives such as tablet computers, netbooks, smartphones and e-book readers," Kumu Puri, senior executive with Accenture's Electronics & High-Tech Practice, said in a statement.

"If strength is measured by unit sales, the computer will remain the strong consumer technology giant for many years," Puri continued. "Our research found that 93 percent of survey respondents own a computer -- a higher proportion than any of the 19 technologies included in the survey. But if measured by growth rate, the PC market -- at least for consumers -- has reached a level of saturation and will continue to see diminished growth rates. There’s increasing potential for an end in sight for the relevance of the personal computer in the home as we know it today."

Accenture said its annual survey focuses on usage and spending on 19 different consumer electronics technologies among more than 8,000 consumers in eight countries in both emerging markets and developed economies: Brazil, China, India, Russia, France, Germany, Japan and the United States. Survey respondents in emerging countries represent key urban markets rather than the population as a whole.

One stat that might keep Steve Jobs up awake at night: a quarter of respondents globally said they don't plan to purchase any consumer technologies in 2011. Also, more than a third (37 percent) of those 55 and older said they don’t plan any purchases, compared with only 15 percent of those between 18 and 24 years of age.

There is also a clear contrast in the purchase plans between mature and so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia India and China) markets: 40 percent of respondents in mature markets said they don’t plan to purchase any consumer electronics in 2011, compared with only 9 percent of those in the BRIC markets.

A key potential influence on consumer's plans to purchase smartphones and tablet PCs appears to be the availability of applications. Seventy percent of respondents said that the availability of applications slightly or greatly influenced their decision to purchase a smartphone or tablet PC and almost a third (31 percent) said it greatly influenced their purchase decision.

Innovation Aisle 3, Green tech Aisle 5?

The Accenture survey indicates most consumers are interested in innovative products -- over half said innovative technologies are somewhat or very important to their purchase decision.

In emerging markets, 76 percent said the perception of having the most innovative of technologies was somewhat or very important to them, versus only 46 percent in mature markets like the U.S. But Accenture also notes that "as the recent lines of consumers waiting for new Apple iPhones and those waiting for Wii game consoles just a few years ago illustrate, there will always be mature market consumers who respond to the market hype about new technology."

The survey also seems to indicate a growing willingness by consumers to pay a premium price for environmentally responsible tech products.

For example, 68 percent of respondents said they would pay a premium for an environmentally friendly product (e.g., lower power consumption, easier to recycle, manufactured using sustainable practices). Some 82 percent of emerging market respondents said they would pay a premium for environmentally friendly products compared with just over half of mature-market respondents.

The full report, "Finding Growth: Emergence of a New Consumer Technology Paradigm" is available here in PDF format.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.