Analyst house IDC has warned that slowing demand for new equipment could affect PC makers next year, leading to industry consolidation.

Competition among PC makers could intensify as consumers and enterprises tighten budgets during the economic downturn, creating a stagnant market for PC makers, said Richard Shim, personal computing research manager at IDC. That could lead to fewer opportunities for PC makers to sell their products.

The PC market is already pretty mature globally, so the lower-than-expected shipments and falling prices could create consolidation in the PC industry, either through acquisitions or by forcing competitors out, Shim said.

In mature markets like the US and Europe, smaller PC makers may be forced out by larger competitors, Shim said. However, in emerging markets the smaller PC makers are ripe for acquisition, as larger PC makers are always trying to expand their customer base.

PC shipments worldwide are expected to grow by only 3.8 percent in 2009, a dramatic drop from the 13.7 percent growth the firm predicted earlier this year. Growth of PC shipments for 2010 has been lowered to 10.9 percent.

While Dell reported slow growth in PCs shipped for the quarter ended 31 October, companies like Hewlett-Packard and Apple have defied the economic downturn, reporting consistent growth in shipments. HP reported a 19 percent rise in unit shipments year-over-year for its most recent financial quarter, while Apple saw 21 percent growth in Mac shipments for the quarter ending 27 September.

Apple has a good chance of recording solid growth through the economic downturn compared to other PC makers, Shim said. Historically Apple has outpaced the industry, as it has a loyal customer base willing to pay higher prices for PCs, Shim said.

Consumers will show more preference for laptops over the next few years, with shipments outpacing those of desktops, IDC said. Laptop shipments are expected to grow from 168 million next year to 285.7 million in 2012, compared to desktops, which will grow from 145.8 million in 2009 to 156.6 million in 2012. IDC has not included handhelds like PDAs in the numbers.

The growth in laptop shipments will be driven partly by larger shipments of netbooks, or mini-laptops, which are small, inexpensive laptops with screens of up to 12 inches, Shim said. Netbooks are shipping in larger volumes in emerging markets because of their lower prices. However, consumers in the US haven't figured out how to effectively use netbooks, as 20 percent of buyers return them, Shim said.

After years of double-digit growth, developed countries will see slower PC shipment growth because of the economic downturn. Shipments in the US will decline by 3 percent in 2009 and continue to grow slowly in the coming years, while countries like Japan and Canada will see low single-digit growth.

Growth in Western European countries is expected to continue at 6 percent in 2009, driven by increased laptop shipments, but it will be a giant drop from the 20 percent growth it is expected to record in 2008.