Personal computer sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in the two decades since such statistics have been tracked, as tablets continue to gain in popularity and buyers appear to be avoiding Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, according to a leading tech tracking firm International Data Corp.
The huge drop over a year ago, the steepest since IDC started publishing sales numbers in 1994, mark a new milestone in the apparent decline of the age of the PC as computing goes mobile via tablets and smartphones.
Total worldwide PC sales fell 14 percent to 76.3 million units in the first quarter, IDC said on Wednesday, exceeding its forecast of a 7.7 percent drop. It was the fourth consecutive quarter of year-on-year declines.
That marked the lowest level since the middle of 2009, according to competing data tracker Gartner, which published its own figures showing an 11 percent decline on the same day.
Both firms blamed the sales drop on fading sales of Netbooks, the small laptops that have been rendered obsolete by tablets, and more consumer spending going toward smartphones.
"Consumers are migrating content consumption from PCs to other connected devices, such as tablets and smartphones," said Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner. "Even emerging markets, where PC penetration is low, are not expected to be a strong growth area for PC vendors."
Microsoft's new Windows 8 actually deterred potential PC buyers, IDC said, as users felt they could not afford touch-screen models required to make the most of Windows 8, even though the system runs equally well on standard PCs and laptops.
"People think they have to have touch, and they go look at the price points for these touch machines, and they are above where they want to be and they say, 'I guess I'll wait,"' said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC.