Dismal figures show PCs are struggling badly to stay relevant

But premium laptops and 2-in-1s will shine

The latest projections from Gartner on the subject of the PC market heap further negativity on the already gloomy picture, although growth is still predicted in certain areas.

The analyst firm estimates that global PC shipments (that's desktop PCs and laptops) will drop to 232 million units this year – a pretty alarming figure when you consider that back in 2012, the figure was 343 million units.

Predicted total revenue for 2016 is $122 billion (around £83 billion, or AU$170 billion), which has dropped from the $219 billion (around £150 billion, or AU$305 billion) that was raked in four years ago.

Gartner's Meike Escherich, a principal research analyst, commented: "PCs are no longer the first or only devices users are choosing for internet access."

Gartner reckons that it's the mid-tier PC vendors which are struggling in particular, and names Acer, Fujitsu, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, which the company notes have lost 10.5% market share over the last five years (and some have retreated from the market).

It's not all bad news though. Tracy Tsai, research vice president at Gartner, observed:

"Nevertheless, PCs are still able to deliver in areas that smartphones and tablets cannot, with larger screens, ergonomic keyboards, greater storage and more powerful computer processors."

She added that PC manufacturers should be concentrating on optimising profitability going forward.

Upwardly mobile PCs

As for the bright spots, Gartner pointed to 'ultra-mobile premium PCs' – ultra-thin and light high-end laptops and convertibles – which will be the only market segment to actually grow in 2016. The prediction is a healthy 16% increase year-on-year to a total revenue of $34.6 billion (around £24 billion, or AU$48 billion).

The company reckons that these ultra-mobile PCs will become the largest segment of the PC industry by 2019 in terms of revenue, hitting $57.6 billion (around £40 billion, or AU$80 billion). Profitability for these premium machines is impressive, with Tsai noting that gross margin can reach up to 25% for machines which cost in excess of a grand.

Gartner also observed that high-end gaming PCs are a niche area where profits could be carved out in the longer-term, although this is a competitive arena.

Gartner's latest figures for Q1 2016 showed that total PC shipments fell to just under 65 million units, and that this quarter was the first time the numbers had fallen below that threshold since 2007, no less.