IDC: Global PC shipments plunge in worst drop in a generation

It's not looking good for the traditional computer. Plus, figures from Gartner.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Global PC shipments* plunged 14 percent in the first three months of 2013, according to newly released figures from market research firm IDC.

It's the steepest decline since 1994, when IDC began keeping records for the device. (For rival Gartner's figures, read on.)

Worldwide PC shipments totaled 76.3 million units in the first quarter of 2013, down 13.9 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago, according to IDC. That's far worse than IDC's prediction of a 7.7 percent decline, and the fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year shipment declines.

In IDC's own words:

Despite some mild improvement in the economic environment and some new PC models offering Windows 8, PC shipments were down significantly across all regions compared to a year ago. Fading Mini Notebook shipments have taken a big chunk out of the low-end market while tablets and smartphones continue to divert consumer spending. PC industry efforts to offer touch capabilities and ultraslim systems have been hampered by traditional barriers of price and component supply, as well as a weak reception for Windows 8. The PC industry is struggling to identify innovations that differentiate PCs from other products and inspire consumers to buy, and instead is meeting significant resistance to changes perceived as cumbersome or costly.

In short: Windows 8 was a bust, if success is defined as boosting PC shipments. But it's clear that the market currents are larger and more powerful than Microsoft (or any other single vendor) can manage -- nevermind the fact that its radically different operating system has seen slow adoption.

With Lenovo as an exception, PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell have been restructuring to accommodate the market shifts. The hardest hit: whitebox system builders.

Here's a look at how it's playing out across the globe:

The United States market contracted 12.7 percent year over year and 18.3 percent quarter over quarter. Total volume fell to 14.2 million. Quarterly shipments reached their lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

The Europe, Middle East and Africa market posted a steeper double-digit decline than anticipated in 1Q13. In an already soft market with budget pressures all around, demand is shifting to tablets. Windows 8 and touch-enabled device adoption remains slow.

The Japan market saw some economic improvement thanks to commercial replacement demand ahead of the scheduled end of support for Windows XP next year. Consumer shipments were "very weak," IDC says.

The Asia-Pacific market -- which excludes Japan -- saw a sharp decline in shipments, dropping a record 12.7 percent year over year. It's the first time the region has ever seen a double-digit drop. "Lukewarm reception" to Windows 8 continues. As expected, China is in the driver's seat for this market, and its foot is off the gas.


At the corporate level, Hewlett-Packard remains king -- despite a 23 percent drop in global shipments, year over year, across all regions. (Yes, that's how tough this business has become.)

Lenovo came in second place and "nearly closed the gap with HP" thanks to an impressive, aggressive strategy. It's the only company that grew shipments, posting double-digit growth numbers in the U.S. as the rest of the market moved in the opposite direction. Interestingly, Lenovo saw declines in the Asia-Pacific region.

Rounding out the Top 5 were Dell (down 10 percent worldwide and 14 percent in the U.S., an improvement), Acer (hurting from its bet on netbooks) and Asus ("substantial decline" in EMEA and Asia-Pacific).

And if you're wondering, yes, even Apple saw PC shipment declines "as its own PCs also face competition from iPads," IDC says.

And what about IDC's rival, Gartner? That market research firm also released its figures today, measuring an 11.2 percent decline quarter over quarter and quarterly shipments of 79.2 million units, a bit higher than IDC's numbers -- and therefore the lowest levels since the second quarter of 2009, per its estimates.


According to Gartner's 1Q13 figures, HP and Lenovo are "in a virtual tie" for first place in PC shipments worldwide; Dell filled out the Top 3.

In the U.S., it remains an HP-Dell-Apple world. Only Apple and Lenovo (No. 5 in the U.S.) were among those in the U.S. top five to see PC shipment growth during the quarter. 

More key points of interest from the firm's report:

  • The EMEA region saw the steepest decline worldwide: a 16 percent decline, to just 23.3 million units in 1Q13. Why? "Ongoing economic uncertainties" in Southern Europe, plus increasing mobile device adoption.
  • The Asia-Pacific market wasn't much better: a 10.3 percent decline, to just 27.6 million units during the quarter. Why? You guessed it: "a fragile economic environment."
  • Unlike the consumer PC market, the professional PC market has seen growth, driven by continuing PC refreshes. The professional market makes up about half of all shipments.
  • HP "recorded its worst shipment decline since the acquisition of Compaq in 2003," under attack in both consumer and professional segments. Ouch.
  • Despite Lenovo's extraordinary growth figures in the U.S., it was Lenovo's slowest growth worldwide since 1Q09.
  • The economic recovery is having little impact on PC market conditions.
  • U.S. PC shipments totaled 14.2 million units in 1Q13, a 9.6 percent decline from the same quarter a year ago.

*One important note: IDC defines PCs as "Desktops, Portables, Mini Notebooks and Workstations." This includes netbooks but excludes tablets with detachable keyboards. Gartner defines PCs as "desk-based PCs and mobile PCs, including mini-notebooks but not media tablets such as the iPad."

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