Consumer demand for tablets has taken an even bigger bite out of laptop shipments.
Worldwide shipments of mobile PCs fell by 6.9 percent in the second quarter of 2013 compared with the first quarter, according to a report out Wednesday from research firm IHS. This is the first time the industry has seen a sequential drop since the second quarter of 2002 when shipments fell by 3.7 percent.
Mobile PCs include traditional notebooks as well as thinner and lighter ultrabooks. Shipments of these devices are typically sluggish at the beginning of the year, but they normally rebound in the second quarter. In 2012, shipments rose by 3.9 percent in the second quarter compared with the first.
The downturn stretches out the entire first half of the year, according to IHS. Laptop shipments for the first half of 2013 fell 11.2 percent compared with the first half of 2012, making this year's first half the worst performing since 2003.
"More nimble devices like media tablets have taken over among consumers given their ease of use and unique form factor," Craig Stice, senior principal analyst for compute platforms at IHS, said in a statement. "Meanwhile, innovation in PCs has stagnated, and the recent influx of low-cost tablets has further eaten into an already decimated mobile PC space. With such dire numbers, many are wondering whether this signifies the start of more record declines for mobile PCs, or if the industry has hit rock-bottom."
PC makers could bounce back by introducing lower-cost laptops that eat up less power by incorporating Intel's Bay Trail processor or AMD's Temash chip, IHS said. Higher-cost ultrabooks could also generate renewed interest assuming prices dip and more consumers gravitate toward Windows 8.
"Despite the broad appeal of media tablets, the devices won't be able to fully replace PCs, and consumers will continue to need the computational power of personal computers," Stice said. "If a new low-cost PC offering strong performance can become available on the market and meet consumer expectations, then PCs could be set for more growth -- not like the glory days of the 2000s -- but growth nonetheless."
Still, 2013 will likely be a bust for laptops. Even if shipments recover during the second half of the year, 2013 is expected to end as the second consecutive year since 2001 in which shipments fell.