2010 PC sales grew 13.8%, but 2011 looks tough

Worldwide PC sales grew by 13.8% in 2010, according to Gartner researchers, which was a notable improvement on the 5.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor

Worldwide PC sales grew by 13.8% in 2010, according to Gartner researchers, which was a notable improvement on the 5.5% growth registered in 2009. Sales fell just short of a million units per day, with Gartner putting the total at 350.9 million and IDC at 345.2 million. However, a fourth-quarter decline in US PC sales -- presumably due to the impact of Apple's iPad -- suggests times may be tougher in 2011.

On IDC's numbers, HP led the way as usual with 62.8m units, up 6.5%, and a 17.9% market share. HP was followed by Dell (43.4m), Acer (42.4m), Lenovo (34.2m) and Toshiba (19.1m), with "others" contributing 142.9m or 41.3% of the total. Gartner's numbers were similar but put Acer (45.3m) ahead of Dell (42.1m). Both had Lenovo growing the strongest of the top five: by 37.3%. However, all the numbers are preliminary and subject to revision.

The US numbers for the final quarter of 2010 show a less attractive picture, with both sets of analysts reporting a decline in units shippped. Gartner reported a decline of 6.6% to 19.1m units in the US, while IDC reckons the market dipped 4.8% to 20.0m. Both HP and Dell saw sales drop along with the market, but the real decline was registered by Acer Group, which includes the Gateway and Packard Bell brands. IDC has Acer Group's shipments tumbling by 28.5% to 1.8m units in Q4, while Gartner has the company down 30.4% to 2.1m units.

The decline in fourth-quarter US sales is roughly 1.0m (IDC) to 1.3m units (Gartner). This is not much bigger than the 0.7m (IDC) to 0.9m (Gartner) decline in Acer Group's US shipments, which had grown rapidly with the success of the Acer Aspire One netbook. It's tempting to see this reflecting the impact of the iPad. However, the decline is also being compared with the 2009 quarter when Microsoft Window 7 was launched. David Daoud, research director for IDC's US Quarterly PC Tracker, said: "The US market was expected to shrink year over year given the exploding growth experienced in the fourth quarter of 2009."

Not even Americans have an infinite supply of money, and if they are buying lots of media tablets (not just the iPad but Android and, soon, RIM tablets) then they will have less to spend on other things. Also, those consumers who already have laptops and netbooks can easily postpone buying replacement models, especially if these don't appear to offer much of an improvement in power or performance. As Daoud says: "This situation is likely to persist in 2011, if not worsen, as a wave of Media Tablets could put a dent in the traditional PC market."

Over the full year, IDC reckons HP was the leading PC supplier in the US market, shipping 18.5m units for a market share of 25.9%. HP was followed by Dell (17.4m), Acer Group (8.0m), Toshiba (6.62m) and Apple (6.59m).

"The bright side of the PC market during the fourth quarter of 2010 was a steady growth in the professional market driven by replacement purchases," said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. "For all 2010, the results indicate the PC market recovered from the recession, as it returned to double-digit growth, compared to low single-digit growth in 2009."

Dell benefited from professional PC refreshes and Gartner said "Dell's shipment growth was better than regional averages across most regions". However, the Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) region remained weak. Gartner said:

"PC shipments in EMEA totaled 32 million in the fourth quarter of 2010, a 6.2% increase from the fourth quarter of 2009. The consumer market in Western Europe remained weak throughout the quarter. In a weak economic environment, already restrained consumer wallets shifted away from PCs to other consumer electronic devices including media tablets, gaming machines and e-readers. The professional market seemed to be picking up, but PC pricing remained an issue as increased Euro/Dollar exchange rates limited any price reductions, resulting in limited year end demand uplift."

With so many of Europe's economies struggling, it's hard to be bullish about 2011's PC sales.

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