Tablets Continue to Eat into PC Sales: Gartner, IDC

Worldwide PC sales during the first quarter fell for the first time in six quarters, according to Gartner and IDC. But in the United States and worldwide, respectively, Apple and Lenovo prospered.

The worldwide PC market, affected by media tablet sales, among other factors, suffered its first year-over-year decline in six quarters, according to preliminary estimates from research firms Gartner and IDC.

In figures released April 13, both firms said they overestimated sales in their forecasts, expecting even modest growth. However, worldwide shipments reached 84.3 million units during the quarter by Gartner's count, for a dip of 1.1 percent from the first quarter of 2010, while IDC put the figure at 80.1 million and down 3.2 percent. In the United States, shipments totaled 16.1 million units by both accounts, compared to 17-million-plus a year ago.

"'Good-enough computing' has become a firm reality, exemplified first by [netbooks] and now media tablets," IDC senior research analyst Jay Chou said in a statement. "Macroeconomic forces can explain some of the ebb and flow of the PC business, but the real question PC vendors have to think hard about is how to enable a compelling user experience that can justify spending on the added horsepower."

The consequences of current events in the Middle East and Japan, Chou added, for now remain unclear but will affect short-term market performance for the year.In their early estimates, the firms also disagreed about the performances of key players, both in the United States and overall. Hewlett-Packard undoubtedly led in both instances-on shipments of approximately 15 million units-despite declining sales. According to Gartner, this was due to weak consumer demand and issues in Asia. However, Gartner again gave Acer second billing, estimating sales of 10.9 million units for 12.9 percent market share, and third place to close rival Dell, on sales on 10 million units and 11.9 percent market share.IDC, as it did the quarter before, found Dell to have instead bested Acer, granting the former sales of 10.3 million units and 12.8 percent market share and the latter 9 million units and 11.2 percent market share. Both firms agreed, however, that Acer suffered the worst blow of the bunch, "affected by continued turbulence in EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Africa], its biggest market," reported IDC, and still feeling "the pullback in the [netbook] and consumer space, while its upcoming tablets have yet to fill in the void."Acer has made a commitment to the tablet space, in hopes that it will help it to regain footing lost as consumer attentions quickly turned from the laptop-lite devices to the even more travel-friendly tablets. The netbook industry's losses to the Apple iPad, among other tablets, accounted for the other discrepancy between the firms. In the United States, IDC found Toshiba to place third (with year-on-year growth of 10.9 percent), Apple fourth (with year-on-year growth of 18.9 percent-the highest of any in the top five) and Acer fifth. By Gartner's tally, however, Acer made it all the way to third position (despite year-on-year growth of negative 25 percent), followed by Toshiba and then Apple.By both counts, HP again led, followed by Dell."Dell faced tough competition in both the U.S. consumer and professional markets," reported Gartner. "The challenge for Dell arose in the midmarket, where more vendors tried to squeeze in to benefit from professional PC refresh cycles. Apple maintained strong shipment growth, even after the holiday season. The MacBook Pro refresh at the end of February accelerated already strong Mac growth."While not making the U.S. top five list, on the world's stage, Lenovo experienced the strongest growth of all-16.3 percent year-over-year, according to IDC, which said Lenovo had maintained a "disciplined channel expansion in other markets" while continuing to dominate in Asia Pacific. Gartner added that it had priced both its consumer and professional offerings very competitively and consequently enjoyed growth across all regions.Is there hope going forward? IDC Program Vice President Bob O'Donnell was optimistic."The U.S. and worldwide PC market continues to work through a difficult era that we expect will continue into next quarter, but will start to improve in the second half of the year," O'Donnell said in the statement. "While it's tempting to blame the decline completely on the growth of media tablets, we believe other factors, including extended PC lifetimes and the lack of compelling new PC experiences, played equally significant roles."