Global PC Shipments Grew in Q1, but Windows 8 Could Change Everything

Gartner and IDC found that worldwide PC shipments modestly grew during the first quarter of 2012. With Intel’s "Ivy Bridge" and Microsoft's Windows 8 arriving soon, the second half of 2012 should be another story.

The PC market exceeded analysts€™ expectations (albeit very modest ones) during the first quarter, rising by 1.9 percent or 2.3 percent, whether you go by figures from Gartner or IDC, respectively.

The two firms released their dueling preliminary first-quarter estimates April 11, telling a story that€™s still very wait-and-see.

Hewlett-Packard topped both charts, in global and U.S.-based tallies, but it was Lenovo and Asus that posted whopping growth numbers. While HP managed to see growth between 3 and 4 percent€”considerably above the global industry average€”Lenovo posted worldwide, year-over-year growth of 28.1 percent by Gartner€™s estimates and a still more-impressive 43.7 percent by IDC€™s.

€œLenovo has managed to capitalize on the missteps of others in the PC market,€ according to IDC. €œThe company has continued to expand its channel reach in the Americas and Europe, while still gaining ground in Asia. Overall growth above 40 percent was way ahead of the market and other competitors, leveraging strong results across regions and building on strong growth in recent quarters.€

At a recent Lenovo press event, a spokesperson joked that a number of Americans think Lenovo is a pharmaceutical company€”this despite being the second-largest PC maker worldwide, grabbing a 13.1 percent portion of market share during the quarter, behind Hewlett-Packard€™s 17.2 and ahead of Dell€™s 11 percent.

Certainly, the company has some work to do on the U.S. branding front, and this was evident in the rankings: While clobbering its competitors in global growth, it failed to make the U.S. top five. Asus, with the second-highest global growth, at approximately 22 percent, also failed to make the cut.

While HP again led, with an agreed 6.6 percent year-on-year growth, in the United States the company was followed by Dell, which by both accounts dipped 3.6 percent, and then Apple, which grew 3.8 percent by Gartner€™s count and 5.1 percent by IDC€™s.

Gartner found Acer to have taken the U.S. No. 4 spot, despite negative 25.9 percent growth, and put Toshiba, which fell by 19.2 percent, in fifth place.

IDC instead gave Toshiba fourth-place billing, with a nearly agreed negative 19.1 percent, and put Acer, which it found to have fallen by only 3.8 percent, in fifth place.

In total, PC shipments to the U.S. amounted to 15.5 million units, according to Gartner, a 3.5 percent decline.

€œThe consumer segment continued to be a drag on market growth, as PC demand was low,€ said Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa. She added that hard-disk drive (HDD) supply shortages moderately impacted the low-end consumer notebook market, and that questions remain about whether low-end systems can attract consumers, whose attention has drifted to tablets and other devices.

Also slowing down purchases were Intel€™s "Ivy Bridge" processors, designed for the burgeoning Ultrabook market, and Microsoft€™s Windows 8, both of which are set to arrive later this year and so have some buyers on hold.

€œAlthough 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,€ said Kitagawa.

An April 12 Juniper report shows Ultrabook shipments reaching 178 million units by 2016, growing at three times the rate of tablets. Though tablet shipment totals will still be higher, reaching 253 million annually, the research firm expects the release of Windows 8 to play a €œpivotal role€ in driving Ultrabook adoption.

Defining the category are solid-state drives (SSDs) for storage, near-instant boot-up times and super-thin physiques.

Analysts with Raymond James, in an April 12 research note, declared the matter of constraints caused by limited numbers of HDDs€”following catastrophic flooding in Thailand, where the majority of HDD manufacturers were concentrated€”to be far less of an issue going forward. They expect the industry to see €œmeaningful growth€ in the second half of the year, as OEMs position themselves for Windows 8 and Intel€™s Ivy Bridge processor for Ultrabooks.

€œAs a result,€ said the Raymond James analysts, €œwe expect year-over-year PC unit growth to ramp toward 10 percent by [the fourth quarter of 2012].€