The PC market is a horror show right now

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Going into the first quarter of 2013, IDC was projecting a dismal 7.7 percent decline in worldwide PC shipments from the same quarter a year ago. Turns out, they were wrong: the decline of the PC market during the quarter was drastically worse.

The 76.3 million PCs that did ship between January and March this year were down a whopping 14 percent from the same quarter a year ago. It’s leading the analysts at IDC, who have been monitoring the PC market since 1994, to call it “the worst quarter” it’s seen.

And, no, it’s not a blip: it’s the fourth quarter in a row that PC shipments have declined.

The numbers show that people still buy PCs, but not in the quantities of the past. Instead, many people — both businesses and individual consumers — are making the purchase of cheaper, more portable tablets their priority right now.

All the big PC makers are affected. Lenovo, which is the second-largest PC maker by volume, was the only one of the top 5 firms who didn’t see double-digit units sales declines during the quarter — it pulled even with the same quarter a year ago. Not terrible, but certainly not good.

Even Apple, which was able to buck the industry trend of the last year and grow Mac sales until the last quarter of 2012, is seeing its laptop and desktop shipments drop off. IDC doesn’t release global numbers for Apple, but in the U.S. its shipments dropped 7.5 percent from the same quarter a year ago. (However, if you look at data from competing analyst firm Gartner, it shows U.S. Mac shipments on an opposite trajectory during the quarter — up 7.4 percent year over year. The reason for the discrepancy isn’t clear; its PC numbers overall weren’t as far off: down 11 percent versus IDC’s 14 percent.)

What Apple has going for it is its prescience in seeing this shift to smaller mobile computing coming (and of course helping it along). So when people are opting not to buy a more expensive laptop or desktop, it has the iPad to offer.

Apple competitors in the PC business have been slow to adjust to this new reality. And even for those who are trying to offer a good tablet experience, it’s not going that well. Microsoft’s attempt to stanch the bleeding with Windows 8 is faring poorly, IDC says:

“At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only didn’t provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” said Bob O’Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, Clients and Displays. “While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button and the costs associated with touch PCs have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft is going to have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if they want to help reinvigorate the PC market.”

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This post was updated with details from Gartner’s report at 5:11 p.m. PT.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Alyssa L. Miller via Compfight cc

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