iPad Pro, Surface Pro only bright spots in grim PC market

First-time PC buyers are at an all-time low, and there is more turmoil to come for PC vendors, warn analysts.

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Big-screen, detachable devices like the iPad Pro are showing growth, unlike much else in the PC market.

Image: Apple

Another grim assessment of the PC market: sales have now dropped to the lowest point for five years, as the number of first-time PC buyers hits a record low.

Worldwide PC shipments reached 101 million units in the first quarter of this year, according to market watchers Canalys. That's down 13 percent year on year, which means sales are now at their lowest point since the second quarter of 2011.

According to Canalys' definition of the PC market, which include desktops, notebooks, 2-in-1s, and tablets, Apple continued to lead the market into the first quarter of 2016 with shipments of just over 14 million units, despite falling 17 percent.

Lenovo shipped some 25,000 fewer devices than Apple, as its decline moved into double digits on the back of weakening sales in China.

Sales of 2-in-1 devices grew just over 13 percent but all other categories declined, as vendors struggle to come up with an answer to falls in global PC demand.

Tablets continue to be the worst affected category, with shipments down about 15 percent to just under 39 million units, said the analysts.

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PC sales continue to decline.

Image: Canalys

All PC categories in Asia Pacific continue to experience weakness, affected by improving quality and falling prices in the smartphone market.

"In low-income markets, notebooks and tablets are no longer must-have products, and multiple device ownership is becoming less common," Canalys said.

Shipments in EMEA declined 15 percent and North America was the best-performing region in the quarter, with PC shipments falling just five percent.

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The analysts noted that the tablet market in the US was aided by shipments of large-screen detachable tablets, such as the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4.

Shipments of 2-in-1s and detachable tablets are expected to continue to grow in the US and high-income markets. These devices tend to be expensive items, which will trigger an increase in the average selling prices of PCs.

The global PC market had a bad start to 2016, and it's difficult to see any bright spots for vendors in the coming quarters, Canalys senior analyst Tim Coulling said.

"Apple and Microsoft are propping up shipments in established markets with their detachables, but price points make them less affordable in low-income countries," he said.

"Although other vendors are coming to market with cheaper alternatives, they are unlikely to have a big impact on volumes in the short term. The number of people looking to buy their first PC is at an all-time low, and 2016 is likely to bring yet more turmoil to global PC vendors."

While still the essential tool for office workers, the PC is no longer the most used computing device for many consumers, who will use a tablet or smartphone instead. One big question is whether where consumers lead, businesses will follow.

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