Windows 8 shines amid shrinking PC sales; Apple gets whacked

Will Windows 8 be the savior for PCs? Reports from both Gartner and IDC show that Windows 8 is showing surprising resilience, while sales of Macs are tanking. Is this a one-time blip or the wave of the future?

The IDC report is the slightly more optimistic of the two when it comes to overall sales. Although it found that overall PC sales declined 7.6% in the third quarter compared to a year ago, that decline was less than the expected 9.5%, largely due to a "mild improvement in business outlook."

Windows 8, surprisingly, helped buoy the market. IDC said:

"While shipments remained weak during the early part of the quarter, the market was somewhat buoyed by business purchases, as well as channel intake of Windows 8.1-based systems during September."

U.S. PC sales was a surprising bright spot, shrinking only 0.2% compared to a year ago. The top PC makers, including Lenovo, HP, Toshiba and Dell, all saw increasing sales. The reason? Largely Windows 8, and to a lesser extent, Windows 7. IDC reports:

"...emerging product categories and a greater assortment of Windows 8-based models supported the volume uptick. Migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 added a few basis points as well."

Apple, meanwhile, got hit badly in the U.S. IDC says that its sales in the U.S. shrank from 2,146,000 units a year ago in the third quarter to 1,906,000 in the most recent quarter --- a precipitous decline of 11.2%. Every single other major PC manufacturer --- HP, Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba --- saw increased sales, with Lenovo up 25%. You can see the chart of U.S. PC sales below.

idc_third_quarter_1.jpg

Gartner's report shows slightly worse numbers, with worldwide PC sales declining 8.6% in the quarter, for the worst back-to-school quarter since 2008. However, the report also found that the worst days of declining PC sales may be over, at least in the U.S. Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, said:

"The 3Q13 results imply the U.S. market may have passed the worst declining stage, which started in 2010. The shrinking installed base of PCs has also passed the steepest decline phase because the structural change has progressed fairly quickly. Tablets will continue to impact the PC market, but the U.S. PC market will see a more moderate decrease rather than a steep decline in the next two years."

The Gartner report also found that in the U.S., the big makers of Windows-based PCs --- HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba -- all saw increased sales, while Apple sales fell. But Gartner said that Apple sales of Macs fell only 2.3%, compared to the 11.2% found by IDC. Still, that's not good news for Apple. You can see the figures, below.

gartner_third_quarter_0.jpg

Is all this temporary, or part of a larger trend? I think it's likely part of a larger trend. At this point, the iPad is probably cannabalizing Mac sales more than it's hurting PC sales, at least in the U.S. As for Windows 8, despite its shortcomings, if you buy a new PC, as a general rule it's going to have Windows 8 on it. And it may be that the myriad new PC form factors of Windows 8 PCs can help the market as well.

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