PC Sales Flat in Q3 as Biggest PC Makers See Growth

PC Sales Flat in Q3 as Biggest PC Makers See Growth

Has the nightmare finally ended?

According to market share reports from Gartner and IDC, the PC industry's freefall has ended. Both firms reported better than expected sales of PCs in the third quarter, with 79 million units sold. That's down about 1 percent, year-over-year, or roughly flat, and a far cry from the 8 percent drop-off in PC sales that the industry experienced in the same quarter a year ago. Best of all, the world's biggest PC makers—Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer and ASUS—all experienced PC sales growth in the quarter.

Indeed, the top five PC makers now account for two-thirds of all PC sales worldwide, the first time that's been the case, Gartner says. And it indicates that the industry is consolidating around several strong players while weaker companies—Sony, Samsung and Toshiba—either exit the market altogether or scale back sales in certain regions and markets.

Lenovo remains the world's largest seller of PCs and in fact extended its lead in Q3, with shipments of 15.7 million units, good for 19.9 percent of the overall market. Lenovo experienced a market share gain of 11.3 percent in the quarter as well, the biggest jump for any of the top PC makers. (Market share comparisons are always year-over-year.)

In second place, HP sold 14.5 million PCs in Q3, racking up 18.4 percent of the market and a gain of 5.1 percent. Dell came in third place worldwide with 10.3 million PCs sold in the quarter, 12.8 percent market share, and a gain of 9.7 percent. And Acer shipped 6.7 million PCs, with 8.5 percent of the market and a gain of 10.2 percent.

Gartner and IDC have always used slightly different methodologies to calculate PC sales. In this quarter in particular, the results vary somewhat between the two in part because IDC includes Chromebook sales in its numbers and Gartner does not. Likewise, IDC does not include sales of Windows tablets with detachable keyboards, while Gartner does consider such devices to be PCs. I've always averaged the numbers from these two firms to arrive at results that I feel are less skewed by such weirdisms.

But regardless of the minutiae of the calculations, some interesting general trends emerged in this past quarter for PC sales.

The transition from PCs to tablets has "faded." At one point, most analysts predicted that tablets such as the Apple iPad would replace PCs for consumers especially. But tablet sales have slowed dramatically—and in the case of the iPad have actually fallen two quarters in a row—while PC sales have stabilized. Gartner now says that tablet adoption has "peaked" and that "The transition from PCs to tablets has faded as tablet penetration has reached the 40-50 percent range." IDC concurs. "The slowdown in tablet sales [has] helped the PC market to continue on its positive growth rate trajectory," IDC notes in its report. "Tablet saturation [has] factored in recent positive trends."

PC sales growth in the US is outpacing the world. Sales of PCs in the United States rose 4.3 percent in the quarter, a nice sign of market health in the world's most established market. PC makers sold 17 million PCs in the United States during the third quarter, and growth was even stronger among portable computers, where shipments jumped 9 percent, according to IDC. This was the third straight quarter in which PC sales rose in the United States. (And the U.S., HP and Dell continue to outsell Lenovo, and Apple of course has a uniquely strong position, making this market further unique.)

PC shipments remain slow in emerging markets. While established markets like the United States, Europe/EMEA, and Asia/Pacific have again embraced the PC, these devices continue to sell poorly in established markets, where consumers are instead choosing cheaper tablets. The issue is affordability, and it's possible that Microsoft's Windows price cuts—PC makers can acquire the OS for free now for very low-end PCs—will help reverse that trend in the future. "Consumers [in emerging markets] who don’t have PCs will likely buy low priced tablets," Gartner noted. 

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