PC shipments tanked last quarter -- and aren't coming back

PC shipments dropped below 65 million for the first time in nine years

PC shipments tanked last quarter -- and they're not coming back

The latest numbers are out, and Gartner says worldwide PC shipments declined 9.6 percent in the first quarter of 2016, to 64.8 million. By the market research firm's reckoning, it's the first time in the past nine years that PC shipments have gone below 65 million. IDC, which uses different definitions and estimation methods, says worldwide PC shipments were down 11.5 percent year-on-year, to 60.6 million.

IDC managed to come up with a positive spin:

Inventory reductions in the channel, which were a headwind through much of 2015, seem to be wrapping up. Similarly, some rebound in economic conditions should support both commercial and consumer activity going forward… as we head toward the end of 2016 things should start picking up in terms of Windows 10 pilots turning into actual PC purchases… we should be entering a period of reprieve. Peak corporate and education buying seasons have historically started in the second quarter. With some IT buyers thinking about early Windows 10 transitions and with the potential continued ascent of Chromebooks in U.S. K-12, the PC market should experience a modest rebound in the coming months

Gartner blamed exogenous forces and offered some optimism:

The deterioration of local currencies against the U.S. dollar continued to play a major role in PC shipment declines. Our early results also show there was an inventory buildup from holiday sales in the fourth quarter of 2015… the Windows 10 refresh is expected to start toward the end of 2016.

Of course, you and I -- and anybody who works in this industry -- knows full good and well that PC sales are taking a rapid one-way trip to the cellar, and nothing is going to bring them back up again. Rather, we should feel fortunate that the drop's only been in the 10 percent range. The folks with the crystal balls should be bracing for more, deeper declines rather than looking for "modest rebounds."

Part of the problem is both firms are trying to apply old definitions to new realities -- IDC doesn't count Surface Pros, Surface Books, iPad Pros, or any other detachable; Gartner doesn't count Chromebooks. Part of the problem is simple inertia -- IDC and Gartner have been underpredicting PC shipment declines for many years. Part of the problem is an entrenched PC industry that still can't quite see the writing on the wall.

Remember back in September 2012, when Steve Ballmer predicted Windows 8 would be running on 400 million devices within a year?

The reasons for the PC era's decline are legion, largely obvious, and widely analyzed. I guess we should be grateful for the good years.

But make no mistake, winter is coming.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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