With the final results now in from Gartner and IDC, it's time to take a quick look at the PC market and see how it performed in 2013. It should come as no surprise to anyone that PC sales are down year over year, and that simpler, more mobile and personal devices like smart phones and tablets are a big part of the reason why. But how far did the market fall in 2013? And what's next?
It's not as bad as has been reported, for starters. Which is odd, since that's not the story you read anywhere, whether you lean towards mainstream news sources or childish partisan tech blogs.
So down 10 percent.
10 percent doesn't sound horrible. But to put this in perspective, a 10 percent annual decline is the worst decline in PC market history, as Gartner noted, and brings the PC market back to the shipment levels from 2009. Just a few years ago, we were talking about PCs hitting the magical 400 million unit plateau. (Which never happened.) IDC pipes in with the fact that PC shipments have now declined for seven consecutive quarters.
Gartner says that the PC shipment declines in mature markets like the US have "bottomed out," meaning they should be at least even, year-over-year, in 2014, while there's more damage to be had in emerging markets where many will simply utilize smart phones and/or tablets as their go-to personal computing devices of choice. IDC didn't offer any opinions as to the overall cause, but did make some locale- and market-specific points, none of which were particularly unobvious.
Some of the bigger changes involve the makeup of the top five PC makers. Lenovo was the number one maker of PCs in 2013, selling 53.5 million PCs and obtaining a market share of 17 percent. But Lenovo is also notable for being the only PC makers in the top five to actually experience sales and market share growth in 2013: Every other PC maker in the top five experiences losses in both categories.
HP, which ceded the number one spot to Lenovo in 2013, is now number 2 with 52 million units sold and 16.4 percent market share, a decline of 9.3 percent. Dell only dropped 2.2 percent to 37.5 million units and 11.8 percent market share.
Rounding out the top five, we see the biggest losses. Acer came in at number four with about 24.9 million units sold and 7.85 percent market share, a steep decline of 28.3 percent. And number five ASUS delivered almost 13 million PCs in 2013 for 6.1 percent market share, a fall of 18.65 percent. The remainder of the PC market fared poorly, dropping 10.75 percent.
The single biggest question for the PC industry is whether we've entered a period of steady decline or whether this levels off. There's no real way to know per se, but I think it's somewhere in the middle: A period of slow but steady decline that either levels out eventually or does so in fits and starts.
Another question, however, concerns some of the individual players in this market. I've written a lot previously about how this change impacts Microsoft and Windows, of course, but there's an entire ecosystem of companies that are impacted by this decline. Two are of particular interest.
The first is microprocessor maker Intel, which has seen its non-PC products met with as much resistance as Microsoft has seen with Windows 8. Intel is trying to push its way into the mobile computing world, but aside from some uptake with Chromebooks, not exactly the hot growth market of the future, it's not seen much success.
And speaking of Chromebooks, it's perhaps not surprising that every major PC maker save ASUS is selling a Windows alternative in the form of a Chromebook, and ASUS will start selling one soon. But the big growth for these companies going forward will be in smart phones and tablets, not PCs.
Perhaps PC market leader Lenovo is the best poised to take advantage of that. It already makes successful tablets and hybrid devices like the YOGA that bridge the gap between tablets and PCs. It makes smart phones, mostly for the China market, but will be expanding to the US and other markets worldwide this year. And it's multi-platform, with both Android and Windows offerings.
In a sense, any company that calls itself a PC maker—i.e. a maker of personal computing devices—should be making PCs of all kinds—including smart phones, tablets or, heck, even Chromebooks—and, shocker, for the most part they already are. And that, I think, is a rough guide for the future, a market that is more diverse, and more heterogeneous, and offers more choice.