High-end ultramobile devices carve a bigger share of the PC market as Chromebooks struggle

High-end ultramobile devices carve a bigger share of the PC market as Chromebooks struggle

Summary: Shipments of traditional desktop and notebook PCs are in decline, but a new category of devices is growing fast enough to more than pick up the slack, according to newly released Gartner figures.


The shape of the PC market is changing, due at least in part to the way PCs themselves are changing shape.

According to recent research from Gartner, one of the fastest-growing device categories has achieved enough momentum to earn its own name: the new Premium Ultramobile category includes Apple’s MacBook Air, Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and other lightweight devices that have the full power of a PC or Mac inside but are optimized for mobility.

By contrast, Chromebooks and Windows RT-based devices like the Surface 2 are struggling.

Those conclusions are buried inside Gartner’s just-released worldwide forecast for device shipments. The headline news, as we reported yesterday, is that the research firm expects total PC shipments for 2014 to increase slightly after slipping in 2013. But the far more interesting story is where that growth is coming from.

Gartner numbers predict big gains for premium devices like the Surface Pro and MacBook Air

Demand for traditional desktop and notebook PCs is declining slowly, but that decline is being more than offset by strong growth in what Gartner calls the Premium Ultramobile category.

Here’s the formal definition (emphasis added):

Premium ultramobiles extend the notebook usage model toward the tablet by refinement of physical characteristics, such as less weight, smaller size and smaller screen size (to enable easier portable usage), and instant-on. Premium ultramobiles typically weigh 1.6 kilograms (kg) and less. They are user-interface-optimized for media consumption, while retaining capabilities for full-scale data processing. Such a device will provide a good productivity and content creation capability compared with basic ultramobiles. It will, therefore, be an alternative to a notebook, dependent on the trade-offs that a user wishes to make between the characteristics of devices and their expected usage pattern. This category includes Microsoft's Windows 8 Intel x86 products and Apple's MacBook Air.

That reference to “Microsoft’s Windows 8 Intel x86 products” currently includes only the Surface Pro line, which is now in its third iteration. And in addition to MacBook Airs (but not MacBook Pros) this category also includes high-end Ultrabooks and hybrids from Lenovo, Dell, HP, Acer, and other PC OEMs.

Gartner first broke out sales numbers for the Ultramobile category beginning in 2012, when it reported 9.8 million units, including MacBook Airs and some early Windows hybrid PCs. In 2013 total shipments in the Premium Ultramobiles category grew to 21.5 million units (with another 3 million units split off into the Other Ultramobiles, Hybrid and Clamshell cagtegory), and the research firm predicts that this segment of the market will grow by 50 percent in 2014 and then increase by 70 percent the following year, with a total of 55 million Premium Ultramobile devices expected to ship in 2015.

To put that number in perspective, Apple sold a total of 17.2 million Macs of all configurations in 2013 and 17 million in 2012. Those totals include iMacs, MacBook Pros, Mac Minis, and Mac Pros, which are counted in the Traditional PCs category.

Or, to put it another way: The worldwide market for all x86-based PCs and Macs will be roughly the same size in 2015 as it was in 2013. But super-lightweight premium PCs optimized for mobility will make up more than 17 percent of that market next year, compared to less than 7 percent in 2013. That's a sizable shift.

If Gartner’s predictions are accurate, the installed base of Premium Ultramobile devices that are less than three years old will exceed 100 million by the end of 2015. Of that total, Windows-based devices should make up roughly 80 percent, with the remainder mostly consisting of MacBook Airs.

Meanwhile, what’s happening to ultramobile devices that aren’t full PCs or Macs? Gartner now breaks those into two subcategories: Basic Ultramobiles and Utility Ultramobiles. The hybrid and clamshell devices in this category include Chromebooks (considered Basic and not Premium devices “because their functionality is considerably limited when not connected to the Internet”). The category also includes Windows RT devices such as the Surface 2 and Nokia Lumia 2520.

Gartner says Premium Ultramobiles will outsell Basic Ultramobiles in clamshell and hybrid form factors (including Chromebooks and Windows RT devices)

Gartner projects that a total of only 16 million Chromebooks, Windows RT machines, and other hybrid and clamshell devices in this group will ship in the three-year period from 2013 through 2015. That number is dwarfed by the 108 million Premium Ultramobile devices expected to ship in the same period.

(On a side note, the most recent browser usage figures from Net Applications and StatCounter confirm the Chromebook's relative rarity. Although ZDNet's coverage of these numbers last week focused on flat growth for Windows 8.x, it's worth noting that Chrome OS hasn't even achieved a blip on the Net Applications/NetMarketShare radar screen. A spokesman for the company confirms that Chrome OS usage on its network has not risen to the level of 0.1 percent of all PCs worldwide, the minimum required to earn a mention in the monthly reports.)

Topics: PCs, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mobility

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  • Bahahaha...

    Chrome books are a colossal failure...just like Glass.

    This device has simply no reason to exist and is an utter waste of money.
    • Chromebooks are like JavaStations

      A terminal disguised as a computer that's pushed on "those other people" by Silicon Valley "visionaries" who'd never be caught using one themselves.
      Mike Galos
      • Thin Clients

        Do not forget about the thin client push. Basically computational power and memory are so cheap there is no need for a crippled computer.
        • Maybe in the right places.

          In my experience there have been some good places for thin clients. They typically require less attention than a full PC and can be good in areas like employee break rooms or pilot lounges where users just need access to the Internet or Terminal Server.
      • Chromebooks

        The Chromebook is for the vast majority of us who use the internet and do not have the skills, knowledge or interest in becoming someone who knows what a terminal is. I just want to use my computer as a communication device and to keep up with the rest of the world without having a bunch of subscriptions to paper products. I love mine.
        • Re: Chromebook

          If you don't use your computer as a computer then you don't need a computer and a Chrome book should be fine for you.
          • Chromebooks and other Chrome OS devices are used as computers.

            The Chrome OS is used as a computer. Computers do many tasks, and the Internet consumption and input is one of those tasks. I am using one right now. I use online spreadsheets, and have done editing of photos online. Is it best of photo editing -- well for a few pics, yes, it got the job done just fine. Do I have a regular PC as well -- sure do, the Mac Mini. The Chromebook is just faster to boot and does everything I do most of the day. If I wanted to save some coin, it could be my only device + a smartphone for on the go. I keep the Chromebook at home most of the time hooked to monitor, keyboard and mouse. I can save to the Cloud, SD, USB flash or HD, and the built in SSD. It just works.

            There is nothing wrong with heavier duty OS, such as Ubuntu or OS X, but on the other hand, the lightweight use of Chrome OS is more than theory in practice - it works.
          • Faster Boot Up?

            Why would you not put the Mac Mini in sleep mode? It's not a Windows machine, the sleep mode actually works. It takes maybe 5 seconds to wake my iMac from sleep.
          • i do

            I do put it in sleep mode. Also turn it off at night. Wish I would have sprung for the additional cost of SSD in the Mini. I get a lot of spinning beach balls. I do have 8GB RAM, but that slow laptop HD they put in those things is too slow at 5400 spin -- at least this is what I assume to be the bottleneck. I do like OS X -- pretty slick OS. But I also like the Chrome OS as well. It is capable of a lot of things - even photo editing. Better than using OS X -- well nah, but still it works. I was happy to find PhotoScape now available on OSX -- great, and free photo editing app is now on OS X.
        • Then just use a kindle

          It's a better product
          • Really?

          • Yes, really

            In particular, the cheapest Kindle is the superior reader, at least in terms of mobility and ease of use. Due to the E-ink display, the battery lasts for days, not hours, and one can easily read while sitting on the beach in full sunlight. Try that with a LCD (even Retina) display.
    • Windows 8

      Your comments sound like what many say regarding Windows 8.
      • didnt read the article?

        The article would indicate that if anything MS was just 2 years early to the party with Win8. It seems they were on the right path though given the growth figures for the premium ultramobile market. Or it could also be taken that Win8 is driving the ultramobile market.
        • Win8

          Win8 isn't driving anything but a rapid retreat by MS
        • Agree With Randmart

          I don' t think Win8 is driving anything. It's the form factor that is driving sales of Premium Ultramobile market. It's the fact that you can have take the Surface Pro with you on vacation and get some work done because it's so small. People are avoiding Win8 on the desktop because it's a touch-centric device in a world where mice and keyboards still predominate. If you look at the chart Ed Bott uses to illustrate his point, you will see the traditional PC market is shrinking every single year. That's a testimony to how dreadful Win8 has been, as well of course, as the availability of smaller form factors.
      • Get a Clue Windows 8.1 vs Chrome OS - No competition! (Google Garbage OS)

        Your statement is very laughable Keltypack. I must agree totally with Mike Galos. Windows 8.1 will be boss, as Microsoft has removed its head out of its bum, and started listing to customers. Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1, and Surface Pro lines are all winners. Chrome OS is a waist of time, but the simply minded will fall for it. Real PCs in Tablet clothing are Boss!
        • Of course this is not true...

          While you are dealing with stuck updates to Windows 8 and all the other mothering it takes to keep up to operating standards, I on the other hand, will simply be moving right along on my Chrome OS device without all your frustration. Same can be said of OS X , less time wasted than on Windows. Perhaps Win9 will be something new and improved -- I have my doubts.
    • No reason to exist

      Owl:Net has simply no reason exist, and reading his posts is an utter waste of time.
      • The whole concept of owl is required

        After all, what does a bored zdnet blogger do to stir things up?

        Answer, come up with some complete muppet persona, and under that name create some interest by posting something far less than average.