PC Shipments Continue to Fall, but Hope Remains

IDC and Gartner analysts said PC shipments fell between 7.7 percent and 10.8 percent in Q3, but Windows 10 and "Skylake" processors could fuel a rebound.

PC numbers

A strong U.S. dollar and the anticipated lull as consumers await systems with Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system and Intel's new "Skylake" processors conspired to create a brutal environment for the global PC market in the third quarter, according to analysts with IDC and Gartner.

In their latest numbers, the analyst firms said shipments of PCs worldwide fell between 7.7 percent (Gartner's number) and 10.8 percent (IDC) during the period, saying that the strong dollar drove up average selling prices (ASPs) and that the channel was focused on reducing the inventory of systems running Windows 8. At the same time, many consumers opted to upgrade their existing PCs from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 rather than buying a new system, taking advantage of Microsoft's offer of a free upgrade during the first 90 days after the new OS was launched July 29.

However, despite the steep declines, the analysts were optimistic that better days for the PC market are near. An array of new systems featuring Windows 10 and the Skylake processors are due in the fourth quarter in time for the holiday shopping season. The new systems "may represent the most compelling reason we've had in years for consumers to upgrade their PCs," Linn Huang, research director for devices and displays at IDC, said in a statement. "Whether this compulsion translates into actual sales remains to be seen."

In addition, while all PC vendors saw shipments fall, the top four vendors—Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Apple—only saw declines in the low- to mid-single digits, IDC numbers showed. By comparison, the No. 5 PC maker—Acer—saw shipments drop 25.9 percent, according to IDC, and the rest of the market outside of the top four showed a decline of about 20 percent.

Gartner found that while both Lenovo and HP had 4 percent declines in shipments, Dell (0.5 percent) and Apple (1.5 percent) saw slight increases. All four of the top vendors also saw their shares of the market increase, according to both analyst firms.

At the same time, IDC analysts said the issues related to currency continues to ease, which should help reduce prices in such regions as Japan, Latin America, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In addition, according to a Gartner survey, 50 percent of consumers said they intend to buy a PC within the next 12 months, compared with 21 percent saying they will buy a new tablet.

"This change in consumer preferences toward PCs was visible in the preliminary data, as we saw positive growth in U.S. notebook and premium ultramobile shipments," Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "Soft recovery is expected to start in 4Q15, as Windows 10 product refreshes start to appear. In the meantime, PC manufacturers should adjust configurations for 2016 without the impact of price hikes seen in 2015, which will lead into more stable market conditions in the upcoming year."

PC shipments have been on the decline since late 2011, driven by the growth of such mobile devices as smartphones and tablets and the lack of new innovative PC features and designs to stoke the interest of consumers and business users.

System OEMs and component makers over the past few years have worked to extend their reaches into other markets. Dell and HP both have grown their data center capabilities, and HP next month will split in two to separate the PC business from its enterprise IT offerings. Lenovo also is branching out, spending more than $5 billion last year to buy IBM's x86 server business and Google's Motorola Mobility unit. Intel is pushing its silicon into everything from high-end servers to wearables and devices in the Internet of things (IoT). Advanced Micro Devices is looking to improve its financial outlook by expanding its presence in the data center and embedded systems and extending its reach into such areas as gaming and immersive computing.

However, none is abandoning the PC market, which ships about 300 million units a year and, according to the analysts, is poised to rebound. Even Microsoft is continuing to move into the space to help push its Windows 10 OS, most recently unveiling its Surface Book two-in-one.

"The PC market continues to contract as expected, but we remain optimistic about future shipments," said Jay Chou, research manager for IDC's Worldwide PC Tracker unit. "While PC shipments will be hampered in the short run by the availability of a free upgrade to Windows 10, the improved PC experience across user segments should drive longer-term demand for new PC hardware that is expected help stabilize the market in 2016 and beyond."