While the hard disk drives (HDD) supply shortage continues to hurt the PC market, global shipments inched up slightly in the first quarter this year, beating analysts' previous estimates of a decline, according to two research firms.
Gartner said in a research note Wednesday its preliminary results showed that worldwide PC shipments totaled 89 million units in the first quarter of 2012--a 1.9 percent increase year-on-year. The result beats Gartner's earlier prediction of a 1.2 percent decline for the quarter, it added.
"In general, the HDD shortage had a limited impact on PC supply during first quarter of 2012. There was a moderate impact on selected markets, such as low-end consumer notebooks and the white-box market in selected regions. Still, low PC demand was able to mask the tight HDD supply overall," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.
In Asia-Pacific, PC shipments hit 30.3 million units in the first quarter, a 2 percent increase from the first quarter last year, Gartner revealed. It noted that in China, shipment of desktop PCs decreased significantly, since there was no longer a rural PC program in place to drive demand. Similarly in India, the government scheme to provide free laptops to students was supposed to be executed in the first quarter, but has been postponed to subsequent quarters, it added.
Regional results of PC shipments were varied, according to Gartner. While Asia-Pacific performed below expectations, in part due to slow growth in India and China, the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region performed better than expected with PC shipments increasing 6.7 percent in the first quarter this year, it said.
Kitagawa said while the PC industry has high expectations for strong growth in emerging markets, the slowdown in China and India this quarter is a "cautionary notice" to vendors that the industry's future growth cannot depend too heavily on these markets even if PC penetration in these regions is low.
IDC, too, reported a small increase in worldwide PC shipments. Shipments in the first quarter rose 2.3 percent, which was slightly above its February prediction of a 0.9 percent year-on-year decline due to HDD shortage, weak economic conditions, competition from other computing devices, and uncertainty around Windows 8, it said in a statement Wednesday.
The research firm explained that although HDD supply remained a key constraint throughout most of the first quarter, PC makers had better access to these drives than customers in the retail and distribution channels. This meant that large PC vendors were able to maintain shipments by managing inventory or absorbing price increases, while the impact to shipments from smaller PC makers was in line with expectations, it added.
In Asia-Pacific, the uptick in PC shipments was limited due to hard disk supply issues, IDC said. However, it added that vendors such as Lenovo and Asus still fared well in key countries such as China and India.
Loren Loverde, IDC's vice president of worldwide consumer device trackers, pointed out that while the first quarter showed slower growth, these downturns are usually followed by recovery as improving technologies help make replacing devices or new purchases more compelling.
"As a result, we expect PC shipments to pick up significantly by the fourth quarter and beyond as HDD supply and pricing are normalized, Windows 8 is launched, and replacements pick up," he said.
Gartner's Kitagawa had a different outlook. She said the first quarter of 2012 was a "transitional period" as the PC industry is awaiting two big releases--Intel's Ivy Bridge and Microsoft's Windows 8--both of which are expected to be launched this year.
"Although these new releases are not expected to stimulate demand as much as the industry hopes, they will affect PC supply so that there will be artificial supply control before and after the product releases. There will be few products rolled out into the market until these major releases have taken place," she said.