The PC Market Stabilizes

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Is the PC market growing or shrinking? It depends on who you ask. As TechCrunch wrote yesterday, tracking firm Gartner reports that PC sales were up 1 percent globally in the final quarter of 2014. However, IDC, another company that keeps tabs on the sales of electronics, noted a 2.4 percent decline.

I highlight both numbers as they are essentially a wash — Gartner claims 83.75 million shipped PCs in the period, while IDC thinks it was 80.72 million. What could be causing the slight difference? The two firms have different methods for computing just what a PC is, which could explain the entire differential.

Here’s IDC:

PCs include Desktops, Portables, Ultraslim Notebooks, Chromebooks, and Workstations and do not include handhelds, x86 Servers and Tablets (i.e. iPad, or Tablets with detachable keyboards running either Windows or Android). Data for all vendors are reported for calendar periods.

And here is Gartner:

Notes: Data includes desk-based PCs, notebook PCs, premium ultramobiles and all Windows-based tablets. It excludes Chromebooks and other non-Windows-based tablets. All data is estimated based on a preliminary study. Final estimates will be subject to change

Interestingly, Gartner, which appears to have a stricter definition of what counts as a PC, reported the higher figure.

Regardless of how you slice up the fat, the PC market is putting up some numbers that should help a few companies breathe more easily. 2013 was a massacre for PCs, and 2014 wasn’t that much better.

PCs had a mixed second quarter in 2014, with data showing either a 0.1 percent gain, or a mild decline. The end of support for Windows XP was widely thought to be the cause of that shift. But, taken in keeping with the last quarter of 2014, based on the data we have now, it appears that in half of last year, the PC market was either roughly flat, or perhaps expanding.

I’ll apologize with a quote:

I don’t quite know how to phrase this, but once the PC market stops shrinking (again, we’re leaning on trends and predictions), the idea of a post-PC world itself ends. In fact, we need a new term. Call it the co-PC world, in which tablets and smartphones are equal in weight and importance to the PC.

As I’ve written before, there is a muddle afoot in all of this. Operating systems are breaking down their own walls and spreading tentacles across device classes. This means that if we compare the traditional PC market to tablets, say, we are pitting one group of Windows devices against another. That won’t do, obviously, for comparison’s sake.

And, as other operating systems — Android, in this case — move up the device size chart (from phone, to tablet, to PC) we are going to have a more diverse PC market in general, further undercutting its performance as indicative of the health of WinTel, as we have for so long deemed it.

So, fuck 2013 is what I’m saying, from the PC market’s perspective. It was awful. But shrinking 10% from massive scale still leaves massive scale.

We need to keep close eyes on continuing declines in PC sales, but inside the next 8 quarters we could see a positive year-over-year period for PC sales. Something to think about.

Fuck 2013, indeed. Happily for the constituent members of the PC industry, things are getting better.

I think that I was wrong to describe PCs as “equal in weight and importance to the PC,” because while I myself remain lashed to my various laptops and desktop machines, it seems that my colleagues and friends are more mobile than ever. You can pick which device class is ascendant, but at a minimum, the idea of parity is likely simplistic.

Windows 10 is just around the corner, generationally speaking. If the PC market can stabilize in the era of Windows 8, could it grow, even slightly, in the Windows 10 era?