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Think we’re moving past the PC? Ask the PC makers

The latest sales numbers for PCs are in, and they are not good. Worldwide PC sales amounted to 86.7 million for the second quarter of 2012, which means they shrank by 0.1 percent compared to a year ago, according to IDC’s latest calculations, published Wednesday. Things were even worse in the U.S., where PC sales were off 10.6 percent from the same quarter a year ago, the least-inspiring showing in a long time for an industry that is very obviously in transition. Even Apple(s AAPL), which has had a remarkable string of Mac sales growth, saw sales dip.

We know tablets are a serious threat to the PC’s dominance, but even the people who watch and forecast this industry didn’t entirely see this much damage coming this fast: IDC had predicted 2.1 percent growth for global PC sales for the second quarter and a drop of 6 percent here at home. For worldwide sales, there were two bright spots: both Lenovo and Asus bucked the downward-spiraling sales trend for the quarter. Lenovo saw sales rise more than 25 percent worldwide, and Asus almost 40 percent. And HP(s HPQ) better watch out: Long the largest PC maker in the world, its market share for Q2 came in at 15.5 percent, while Lenovo is sneaking up behind at 14.9 percent.

Apple has been able to show significant growth in its Mac sales extending back several quarters, so it seems out of character for its U.S. sales to be off 1.1 percent from a year ago. (IDC didn’t report Apple’s worldwide sales numbers for the quarter, though we’ll find out on July 24 when the company reports its earnings.) Despite the drop-off, its market share in the U.S. did inch up a bit from 10.3 percent last quarter to 11.4 percent this quarter.

So what was it that went wrong for laptop and desktop makers last quarter? There’s a lot of waiting going on.

People are delaying purchases of laptops because an iPad or Android tablet is a cheaper upgrade and current owners tend to find they’re usually good enough for their most basic computing tasks. This has been hurting PC makers, and the pain will continue if the iPad, which has racked up 67.1 million unit sales in the last two years, really does see legitimate tablet competition in the form of the Microsoft Surface(s MSFT) and the Google Nexus 7(s GOOG) this year. Apple has been up front about the fact that the iPad has been hurting Mac sales as well.

Businesses and individual consumers have been waiting for Windows 8 to drop later this fall and many for new MacBooks from Apple as well, which didn’t materialize until late last month. Some Macs, like the Pro and the iMac are still awaiting proper updates too.

Another thing PC manufacturers are still waiting for? The ultrabook play to actually result in significant sales. According to IDC, “Ultrabooks have not yet produced a significant rise in volumes – in part due to anticipation of improvements such as Windows 8 expected later this year, but also due to pricing.”

12 Responses to “Think we’re moving past the PC? Ask the PC makers”

  1. I would think that today applications tend to need less HW resources as they move to the cloud. Some users have enough with just a browser. This could also be a reason why Desktop’s-Laptop’s become less attractive and cheaper alternatives are chosen.

  2. PC unit sales are down 0.1% year on year worldwide. This is not the elusive evidence of “post-PC” that supporters of this official Apple propaganda phrase are always looking for.

    The PC/laptop market has reached saturation. Almost every PC on almost every desk in almost every home and business on the planet is a Windows PC.

    The underlying principle is known as the saturation curve. The shape of the graph illustrates the effect. In a closed system, each unit of growth makes further growth exponentially more difficult; so much so that 100% saturation is generally impossible. Growth is very easy at the very bottom of the curve where Apple sits, and yet the figures show that Mac is struggling to sell.

    Also, a PC is built to last and to be easily upgraded by both hardware and software. That’s why Win XP remains the most popular OS, despite Win 7 being the fastest-selling OS in history. The PC business model is a stark contrast with most mobile devices, especially the iPhone and other Apple products. Apple makes huge profits because its customers are compelled to keep buying the new version. Many users get a new phone every year or so. The PC business model is clearly better for the consumer, albeit less profitable for the companies involved.

  3. Green Gadget

    The recent ultrabook explosion represents one of the steepest increases in pc price trends in many years. When those $1000 plus laptops start coming back to affordable prices the markets should pick up again- if those machines are Win8 compatible.

  4. BatshitQuestion

    Try asking consumers if we’re past the PC era. Bet that carriage manufactures never thought they’d be in a “post Horse & Buggy” area either.

  5. In the past, my only reason for upgrading my computer was the requirement of the businesses involved in using the computer. Banks and ISPs would no longer support older technology or operating systems, limiting whatever I could do with my machine. Thank the internet. Before the internet, banking and shopping didn’t exist using a computer.

    Today, buying a new machine requires planning for the purchase in an economy that is not as healthy as it was several years ago. The tablets are NOT capable of doing the same things I do on my computer, although they are sufficient for the casual user.

  6. Brian Stringfellow

    It’s just a form factor change. Don’t get too excited. Just further miniaturization. Tablets are personal computers, as are smartphones. When you plug a mouse, keyboard and large display(s) into a tablet or phone, what do you have? A desktop PC.

      • This was pretty much the exact argument of mainframe supporters at the introduction of PCs. Computing power grows per Moore’s Law. Human capacity does not grow at all. How soon before we have a supercomputer (in the sense of processing and storing more data than a human can reasonably deal with) in each of our shirt buttons?

      • That’s a bit harsh. If PCs had all these wonderful qualities, why o why did people replace their PCs ever so often? Ah I get it – it must be micro$oft!

        Storage means cloud or at least network. Anemic apps is not a given – you can always upgrade to energetic ones. Regarding component obsolescence, yes, one is stuck, but so is the case with PCs most often. You could change your video card or the HDD or the gfx card etc…but more often than not, this was a techie delight rather than a business decision. Phones, tablets will not serve that “techie delight”, but hey, (launch that green brick now!), you don’t mod your phone/tablet, you just buy a new one.

        All that said, phones, tablets, (ultra)books, laptops, desktops are all separate categories of products – and the fast moving amongst these fish will eat the slow movers. And PCs are moving slower than before.