PC Market Continues to Limp Along

The third quarter US PC shipments figures have been coming out. While there was a mild recovery for some of the PC makers, the numbers overall remain very weak.

Both IDC and Gartner see PC shipments off from 7.6% to 8.6% overall vs. last year. In addition shipments don't equal sales. Consequently the actual sales figures may be weaker than suggested by the shipments numbers. 

The market has structurally changed. Smartphone and tablet usage has replaced PC usage in many cases. Smartphone and tablet growth will continue to gain for the next 3 - 5 years, generally at the expense of PCs. We're also not likely to ever see high-end ($1,000+) PC sales at any volume in the consumer market again.

 

While Apple has been able to maintain higher desktop and laptop prices, most PCs now sell at sub-$500 levels (they're effectively disposable). And once consumers make that leap psychologically they'll want to spend even less (hello Chromebooks).

There's also less and less urgency to replace or upgrade older PCs. Consumer indifference to Windows 8 also compounds challenges for the PC industry.

The "aha" about the Q3 Gartner and IDC PC shipments estimates above and below are that the back-to-school shopping season did almost nothing to boost sales. HP, Lenovo and Dell saw modest growth while other PC makers saw significant double-digit declines. 

 

Meanwhile tablet (and hybrid phone-tablet) devices continue to grow. Roughly 34% of the adult US population now own tablet devices according to earlier 2013 Pew survey data. Those numbers are likely to be above 40% and perhaps as high as 45% after Q4 2013. 

Pew tablet ownership 

The thing separating the PC from more precipitous declines is arguably Microsoft Office. If a functioning version of Office comes to non-MSFT tablets or if the cloud based version of Office is more widely adopted, PCs will be even less "necessary" for consumers than they are today.