Summary:

After several quarters of sequential sales declines, notebooks rebounded in the third quarter with 47.9 million sold. Don’t break out in celebration though: Thanks to improved tablets, the improvement is likely to be short lived.

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Sales of notebook computers bucked their recent trend and actually grew 6 percent in the third quarter as compared to the prior three months. Estimated sales of mobile PCs hit 47.9 million units worldwide says research firm IHS. Overall however, notebook sales for the year are still expected to be lower than the prior year, marking two such years of falling sales.

ihs notebook sales change

This data shouldn’t surprise, however. Traditional computing tasks are slowly being migrated to devices far more mobile than a laptop: smartphones and tablets. I pointed this out a number of times over the past few years, but this short bit from March 2012 explains it best:

“Simply put: Mobile devices are enabling new economies, opportunities and functions we couldn’t envision just a handful of years ago. Ignore this trend and you’re sure to think there’s no way tablets could ever outsell PCs, let alone do so within the next two years. Look at the next generation embracing tablets, however, and you start to see that the idea isn’t so far-fetched after all.”

While notebook sales have been declining for nearly two years, tablet sales have continued to rise. They’re not yet at the point where they’re outselling notebooks, but it’s getting close.

This holiday season will be interesting to watch, in fact. After reading many of the early iPad Air reviews, the consensus seems to be that it’s powerful enough to be a laptop replacement for many. Not everyone, of course — there are still many high-computing, very specific activities that require a desktop or a laptop. I’d argue that the majority of consumers, however, can get their compute experience from a phone or tablet. The need for a traditional PC — plus the costs, complexity and maintenance that come with it — is diminishing for many.

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What may have helped the quarter for notebooks was the introduction of Intel’s Haswell chip. The silicon is maintaining or boosting performance over the prior chip architecture while also adding a measurable amount of battery life. These are certainly compelling features that make a notebook computer more desirable. Assuming you need a notebook computer, that is.

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