The PC industry will grow at a “weak” pace in 2012, research firm Gartner forecast on Thursday.

“PC shipments will remain weak in 2012, as the PC market plays catch up in bringing a new level of innovation that consumers want to see in devices they purchase,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. “The real question is whether Windows 8 and ultrabooks will create the compelling offering that gets the earlier adopter of devices excited about PCs again.”

Gartner forecasts that tablets such as Apple’s new iPads introduced on Wednesday as well as smartphones will generate more competition for buyers’ dollars.

On Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out that Apple sold more iPads in the fourth quarter than any of the top four PC makers, including No. 2 Lenovo which operates its executive headquarters in Morrisville.

Apple sold 15.4 million iPads in what Cook described as a “post-PC revolution.”

No. 1 PC seller HP sold 15.4 machines. Lenovo sold 13 million.

Looking ahead to 2012, Gartner forecast PC shipments of 368 million, up 4.4 percent from 2011.

However, Gartner does believe PC sales will improve in 2013 to more than 400 million.

The economy and supply problems hurt in 2011 but suppliers are more concerned with “the far greater issue of changing consumer dynamics,” Gartner said..

“The use of applications such as e-mail, social networking and Internet access, that were traditionally the domain of the PC, are now being used across media tablets and smartphones, making these devices in some cases more valued and attractive propositions,” Atwal said. “Consumers will now look at a task that they have to perform, and they will determine which device will allow them to perform such a task in the most effective, fun and convenient way. The device has to meet the user needs not the other way round.”

Ultrabooks could prove to be a counter to tablets, he noted.

“However, PCs will face more competition as we see new media tablets based on operating systems from Android and Microsoft, as well the new iPad,” Atwal added.

“Moreover, we expect the shift to the personal cloud will also accelerate as consumers increasingly adopt cloud-based services as part of their digital ecosystem. The evolution of the personal cloud will challenge vendors across all mobile devices markets and add to the hurdles for PC vendors to overcome to revive the PCs and differentiate them from tablets. The creation of content capabilities of PCs may not be enough to counteract the better content consumption capabilities of media tablets.”

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