We've been hearing about a supposed post-PC era for some time now while tech pundits have continued to bandy about once unfathomable ideas like the death of PCs. And although PC manufacturers have struggled, the real-world results of hundreds of millions of PCs being shipped year after year have met these ideas with opposition. However, for the first time in nearly 11 years (according to Cnet), annual PC sales appear to be on the decline. At least, that's according to the latest figures from industry analyst IHS iSuppli. Is this finally the descent of the PC?

iSuppli's numbers aren't particularly scary -- shipments are only down by 1.2 percent from this time last year, but it's the first decline since the turn of the century. And although the number is relatively small, when you consider last year's 2.2 percent growth, 1.2 feels just about three times worse than it should. 

Further complicating things though were expectations of increased growth. This expectation hinged upon the economy (supposedly) being on a slow upswing, Intel's fierce push of Ultrabooks amongst other things. In hindsight, we can say that forecasts weren't exactly correct. Manufacturers have shipped about 348.695 million PCs thus far, down from last year's 352.831 million.

It takes more than one data point to reliably discern a trend though, so iSuppli asks some basic questions:

  • What impact will Windows 8 have on PC sales Q4 this year?
  • Will tablets continue their rise in popularity during the holidays, further displacing PC sales?
  • Will the interest in Ultrabooks be quelled by ongoing financial hardship?

We'll have to wait for the answers on those things, but iSuppli believes a "strong rebound" is certainly possible in 2013.

In the meantime, "PC alternatives" seem to be doing just fine. Earlier this year, Forrester predicted that tablets would overtake PC laptops by 2016. Microsoft believes tablets will outsell Desktop PCs by as early as next year.