In the third quarter, PC shipments slumped by more than 8 percent compared to the previous year, the most precipitous drop since 2001, according to new reports from analysts IDC and Gartner. Adding to the gloom: A separate report from IHS iSuppli predicts that global PC shipments will shrink this year, for the first time since 2001. These numbers serve as just the latest evidence that consumers are increasingly opting for tablets and smartphones when buying new computer gadgets. "This is definitively a crossroads," IDC analyst David Daoud tells The Wall Street Journal. "It could be a mark or break moment" for the PC market.

So are PC makers doomed? "The industry is giving all it's got — ultrabooks, faster chips — but so far, nothing's working," says Charles Arthur at Britain's The Guardian. The trend has been exacerbated by tough economic conditions around the world, which have forced many customers to choose between a traditional PC and a cutting-edge tablet. And lest we forget, tablets often cost less than their bulkier counterparts.

However, some analysts point to rays of hope. IDC researcher Jay Chou says a new "it" product could turn the PC industry around. Meanwhile, Microsoft is rolling out its Windows 8 operating system in a couple weeks, which could prompt new PC purchases from consumers and businesses alike.

That said, businesses are still tightening their belts in the midst of a sluggish economy. And for a younger generation, "even a wildly successful reception for Windows 8 won't likely renew their interest in PCs," says Marcus Wohlsen at Wired. "They're more likely to want the version they can put in their pockets."