PC sales are slowly yet surely creeping their way upwards, with analysts pointing to a one per cent increase in the number of PCs shipped worldwide as a clue that the market is stabilizing.

A one per cent increase may not sound like much, but it’s a sign PC sales are improving after roughly two years of decline, according to research analysts at Gartner Inc. The second and third quarters of 2014 marked the first time sales stopped their spiral downwards, and after gauging PC sales in Q4 of 2014, analysts concluded this has been the most promising quarter yet.

Q4 of 2014 saw more than 83.7 million units of PCs get shipped, and those numbers were largely bolstered by the Christmas season. That was also a big boost in the U.S., where PC sales increased by 13.1 per cent compared to the same period in 2013. (For its research, Gartner counted desk-based PCs, notebook PCs, premium ultramobiles and all Windows-based tablets, but it didn’t include Chromebooks nor tablets running other operating systems in its estimates).

“The fourth quarter of 2014 was the best holiday for PC sales in recent history. The primary driver was mobile PCs including regular notebooks, thin and light notebooks and [two-in-ones],” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, in a statement.

She added part of the reason for the improvement is that consumers have bought tablets in recent years, but that market is becoming fairly saturated, and now consumers are once again interested in getting PCs for their homes. Plus, laptop-tablet hybrids and notebooks lured consumers away from regular tablets, as they may have been enticed into replacing their older tablets with devices that gave them more functionality.

“Low-priced notebooks with about a $300 to $200 price point boosted shipments while thin [or] light notebooks and two-in-ones (laptops with a detachable or bendable screen) showed strong growth,” she said. “These results supports our assumption that consumer spending is returning to the PC as tablet penetration has reached the majority of the market.”

However, this pattern only holds true in developed markets, she noted. In emerging markets, where smartphones and tablets are often consumers’ main way of accessing the Internet, PC sales are still weak, even for lower-end notebooks.

Gartner's estimates of PC shipments for Q4 2014.
(Image: Gartner).

In Q4 of 2014, the biggest PC seller was Lenovo, which shipped about 16.3 million PCs and held about 19.4 per cent market share. Not far behind was HP, which sold about 15.8 million PCs, with 18.8 per cent market share, while Dell was trailing in third place with 10.6 million PCs sold.

Still, today’s PC news doesn’t necessarily herald a huge comeback in PC sales. In emerging markets like China and India, consumers with less spending power are more likely to opt for mobile devices, Kitagawa said.
“Users [in emerging markets] are more focused on content consumption or on specific tasks where functions can be handled by a smartphone,” she said.

“Coupled with limited disposable income, these buyers are delaying PC purchases if they do not see the need, therefore making the consumer market more lackluster than what it used to be.”

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