PC Shipments Down for Fifth Year; Lower End Problematic

The lower end of the PC market--mainly Asus, which dropped a startling 48.3 percent in shipments--is where the sales slippage has hit the hardest.

Ever since the smartphone and tablet elbowed their ways into our daily lives in the first years of this new century, the sales of personal computers—desktop and laptop—have subsequently leveled off and recently even slipped backward.

One can certainly contend that a smartphone is merely a smaller PC that fits into a pocket. One also can argue that you can't do things on a smartphone that you can do on a PC, especially in business.

Amid those continuing discussions, it's noteworthy that the market research reported Jan. 12 by both ITG and Gartner shows that the milestone of a five-year PC decline has, in fact, become a trend. According to the reports, the lower end of the PC market—mainly Asus, which dropped a startling 48.3 percent in shipments—is where the sales slippage has hit the hardest.

Gartner's Take

Gartner said 2016 PC shipments totaled 269.7 million units, a 6.2 percent decline from 2015. IDC said shipments were 260 million in 2016, down 5.7 percent from the previous year. Both report that desktop and laptop shipments have declined annually since 2012.

[To see a larger view of the chart at left, right-click on it and select "View Image."]

Lenovo maintained its No. 1 market position. Interestingly, the China-based company saw shipment increases in North America and EMEA, while its home Asia/Pacific and Japan geographies continued to be its most challenging markets.

HP remained in second place and has recorded three consecutive quarters of shipment growth. HP secured the top position in PC shipments in the U.S. and EMEA, growing faster than the regional averages.

Dell also registered three consecutive quarters of shipment growth in 4Q16 and continued to place PCs as a strategic business segment in commercial and consumer markets during 2016. Apple and Acer are Nos. 4 and 5 in sales, respectively.

Asus Suffers Steep Decline as It Refocuses

No. 6-ranked Asus suffered the steepest decline among the top six vendors in the fourth quarter of 2016. The Taiwanese company has been shifting its PC strategy toward the high-end market, which will allow it to maintain better profit margins. Gartner analysts said the falling shipment volume could be the cause of this strategy shift.

"Stagnation in the PC market continued into the fourth quarter of 2016 as holiday sales were generally weak due to the fundamental change in PC buying behavior," said Gartner Principal Analyst Mikako Kitagawa. "The broad PC market has been static because technology improvements have not been sufficient to drive real market growth.

"There have been innovative form factors, like 2-in-1s and thin and light notebooks, as well as technology improvements, such as longer battery life. This [high] end of the market has grown fast, led by engaged PC users who put high priority on PCs. However, the market driven by PC enthusiasts is not big enough to drive overall market growth."

IDC More Optimistic for Recovery

IDC is more bullish on a possible recovery for the PC-making industry in 2017.

"The fourth quarter results reinforce our expectations for market stabilization, and even some recovery," said Loren Loverde, IDC Vice President of Personal Computing Trackers & Forecasting. "The contraction in traditional PC shipments experienced over the past five years finally appears to be giving way as users move to update systems.

"We have a good opportunity for traditional PC growth in commercial markets, while the consumer segment should also improve as it feels less pressure from slowing phone and tablet markets."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...