PC Market Posts Smaller Than Expected Q1 Declines On Strength Of Windows XP’s Demise

Data out from tracking groups point to a slightly rosier picture of the PC market than expected in the first calendar quarter of 2014: Gartner estimates a Q1 decline of 1.7 percent in shipments of PCs; IDC estimates a 4.4 percent decline.

That IDC number bests its forecast of a 5.3 percent decline.

Keep in mind that it is generally expected that 2014 will be a down year for PCs. IDC predicted in March that shipments would contract by 6 percent total in 2014, so its reported 4.4 percent decline in Q1 is almost a win. Almost.

What worried IDC before — sales weakness in emerging markets — isn’t what drove volume in the quarter. That’s not to say that its worries didn’t come to pass (more on that in a second), but that instead something else rode to the rescue: Windows XP.

Yes, Windows XP’s death seems to be driving sales at last. IDC: “Commercial refresh projects, which had already been protracted, received a last push from the impending end of Windows XP support, particularly in Japan. In addition, slowing demand for tablets seems to have helped constrain previously drastic cutbacks in notebooks.” So, Windows XP in global markets is finally helping the PC market and its constituents.

Still, as mentioned above, emerging markets remain an issue. IDC claims that they posted “weak results” in the quarter, as expected.

Microsoft and Intel declined to comment.

Gartner also cites Microsoft’s now-shuttered operating system as a positive driver for sales: “The end of XP support by Microsoft on April 8 has played a role in the easing decline of PC shipments.” Gartner went on to call the PC market “weak” but “showing signs of improvement.” 

Fair enough.

The question is whether these better-than-expected numbers can persist into the second quarter. I’d wager yes, given that Windows XP actually lost full support from Microsoft in the second quarter; what impacted the first quarter could be amplified in the second. What would be interesting is whether such a short-term updraft could bolster Gartner estimates to the point of having a year-over-year of positive unit growth in PC shipments.

None of this is to say that the PC market doesn’t still contain weaknesses. The transition to Windows 8 by the industry remains in progress, as Microsoft improves its operating system and OEMs build better, more touch-focused computers.

This data is better than expected, but a single quarter of decent news does not a trend make.