Shipments of personal computers totaled 76.3 million units in the first quarter of 2013, according to research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), good for a 13.9 percent decrease from the 88.6 million units shipped in the first quarter of 2012. IDC says that the decline nearly doubles the 7.7 percent year-over-year drop it expected for the quarter, and marks the worst quarter for PC shipments since the firm started tracking them in 1994.
The number is certainly bigger than anticipated, but still isn’t entirely surprising. Year-over-year shipments have declined every quarter for the past year, largely due to the continued popularity of smartphones and the recent boon in the tablet market. And as IDC notes, these cheaper yet still multifunctional smart devices have taken the legs out of a low-end PC market that once made netbooks popular.
As far as more specific ailments go, IDC casts a fair amount of the blame on Windows 8, the touch-heavy newest operating system from Microsoft. The OS may still be in its nascent stages, but IDC’s Bob O’Donnell says that its “radical” changes to the traditional Windows interface— most obviously seen its tiled UI replacing the usual Start button — and its heavy reliance on touch gestures have “slowed the market” as a whole. Structural uncertainty at the cores of PC makers like Dell and HP haven’t helped either.
It’s worth noting that rival research firm Gartner published its quarterly earnings recently too. Its findings were largely similar to those of IDC’s, although the decline in PC shipments was not as steep – the firm counts a total of 79.2 million units, which isn’t good but still marks a lesser 11.2 percent decline year-over-year.
One thing both reports do have in common is the current pecking order of vendors. The consensus is that HP is still the worldwide leader in PC shipments, but that it and fellow top five companies Dell, Acer and Asus are taking the brunt of the shipment slowdown. Only number two vendor Lenovo has avoided a decline, though even then its shipments effectively leveled off year-over-year.
It’s a similar story when looking just as U.S. PC shipments, as the current order is said to be HP, Dell, Apple, Toshiba and Lenovo. HP, Dell and Toshiba are said to be losing ground here in the States, while again Lenovo outpaced the market for a roughly 13 percent increase in market share year-over-year. Gartner and IDC seem to disagree on Apple’s latest quarter, though: both have the Cupertino clan as the number three PC vendor in America, though the former claims its market share grew seven percent year-over-year and the latter says it declined seven percent during that same time frame.
Either way, the natural response to these findings is likely going to be one of hyperbole. Some may hold the figures up as proof that the “PC is dying,” but whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen. There are still many, many tasks that smartphones and tablets simply cannot do as effectively as PCs, and it’s important to remember the big changes in the market here are largely due to everyday consumers. The business sector, along with virtually anyone who is serious about getting productive tasks done efficiently, is still reliant on full-on computers.
But while PCs probably aren’t going to be “dead” for a long while, it’d be foolish not to recognize that the way people compute these days is evolving. For a fair amount of modern users, a smartphone and tablet loaded with all the best apps can perform all the basic functions they’d ever need. That’s forcing PC makers to struggle as they hurriedly try to adapt to the times.
Microsoft certainly recognizes all of this with its commitment to a touch-friendly OS and its recent push into making tablet hardware, but the consumer response to both of those new products has been flat. For many, Android and iOS have become the OS of choice. So as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pondered at the unveiling of Facebook Home last week, the real takeaway from this decline may not be “is the PC dying?,” but “how are we going to define ‘PC’ going forward?”