Lenovo, HP Top Shrinking PC Market, IDC, Gartner Say

Low-cost systems, the popularity of Chromebooks and saturation of the tablet market help buoy a still-struggling PC space, the analyst firms say.

Dell PC

Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard continue to lead a global PC market that is still in a slight decline or is recovering at a slow rate, depending on the analyst report that is being looked at.

Analysts with Gartner and IDC on Jan. 12 released their respective numbers on the PC space for the fourth quarter and for all of 2014. Gartner found that PC shipments in the last three months of 2014 grew 1 percent, due in large part to a slowdown in tablet sales and efforts by PC makers to broaden their portfolios with smaller and lower-cost systems. For the year, PC shipments declined 0.2 percent, according to Gartner.

For their part, IDC analysts said shipments in the fourth quarter fell 2.4 percent—better than the expected 4.8 percent decline—and shipments for all of 2014 dropped 2.1 percent when compared with 2013. There were some positive signs for the PC market, including low-priced systems, such as Chromebooks, and the promotion of Windows 8 with Bing, they said. However, some issues—such as constraints on Bing promotions in larger devices—may hurt the PC market in 2015, according to Loren Loverde, vice president of IDC's Worldwide PC Tracker business.

"The strength from market leaders, as well as improvement in Asia/Pacific and the consumer market more generally, are positive signs for the PC market," Loverde said in a statement. "Growth of Chrome, Bing, all-in-ones, ultraslim, convertibles, and touch systems similarly make PCs more compelling and competitive. Nevertheless, some of the gains are relatively small, and weakening drivers like Bing promotions and end of XP support transitions cast a shadow of doubt on the strength of the market going into 2015."

The PC market has seen significant declines in shipments since 2011. The growing popularity in tablets shifted some business and consumer tech dollars away from PCs, and the lack of innovation in PCs put a damper on buyer enthusiasm. However, 2014 proved to be a better year for the space. The decline in PC shipments slowed, thanks to Microsoft's ending of support for Windows XP in April 2014 coupled with new form factors like two-in-ones, the saturation of the tablet market and the drive by businesses to refresh their fleets of aging PCs.

"The PC market is quietly stabilizing after the installed base reduction driven by users diversifying their device portfolios," Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "Installed base PC displacement by tablets peaked in 2013 and the first half of 2014. Now that tablets have mostly penetrated some key markets, consumer spending is slowly shifting back to PCs."

The interest in PCs could be seen at last week's 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where vendors like Dell, HP and Lenovo showed off a broad range of new systems. There also is anticipation for the upcoming release by Microsoft of Windows 10, which is expected to offer significant improvements over Windows 8.

How all this bodes for 2015 remains unclear, though IDC analysts suggested another difficult year for PC shipments. The strength continues to be in mature markets, including the United States, as well as Western Europe, the analysts said. Emerging markets continue to be weak, like China and India, where consumers continue to look to smartphones for their computing purposes.

"Users here are more focused on content consumption or on specific tasks where functions can be handled by a smartphone," Gartner's Kitagawa 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."

Lenovo continues to lead HP in PC shipments, the analysts said. For all of 2014, Lenovo held 18.8 percent of the market, with HP having 17.5 percent, according to Gartner. Dell, Acer and Asus rounded out the top five.

IDC's top four mirrored that of Gartner, though the analyst firm had Apple at No. 5, with 6.4 percent of the market.

The discrepancy in the numbers between IDC and Gartner can be seen in what is and is not included in their countings. For example, IDC includes Chromebooks and workstations in its numbers, but not tablets. Meanwhile, Gartner includes all Windows-based tablets but not Chromebooks or non-Windows tablets.