Two of the most prominent tech research agencies, International Data Corporation (IDC ) and Gartner Group, have both released their end-2015 evaluations of the state of the PC market. And although the precise numbers differ slightly, the news is pretty dire for PC manufacturers.
First, IDC, since its estimate of the decline is more severe. According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker , “worldwide PC shipments totaled 71.9 million units in the fourth quarter of 2015 (4Q15), a year-on-year decline of -10.6% … Although total shipments were in line with already conservative expectations, the news nonetheless ended 2015 as the first year below 300 million units since 2008. The holiday quarter achieved a modest uptick compared to the third quarter, but the year-on-year decline in 2015 shipments was nevertheless the largest in history, surpassing the decline of -9.8% in 2013.”
According to Gartner, meanwhile, “worldwide PC shipments totaled 75.7 million units in the fourth quarter of 2015, a 8.3 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2014.” However, outside the U.S., the situation was even worse. Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, observed that: “collectively EMEA, Japan and Latin America saw their markets reduced by nearly 10 percent in 2015.”
One ominous sign for the future of PCs is the way that according to IDC, the PC industry finished 2015 “as expected.” Those conservative expectations are already baked in, meaning that analysts see PCs as a sunset industry. Gartner sees a further 1 percent decline in 2016, noting: “the PC market is still in the middle of structural change which will reduce the PC installed base in the next few years.”
The action has clearly moved on elsewhere, to mobile devices of all kinds, whether phablet, smartphone, or Fire. Developing markets, which promise so much for mobile growth, appear to be doing very little for PCs. Mikako Kitagawa noted that during the 2015 holiday season, “consumers’ interest shifted to other consumer electronics devices such as TVs and wearables.” And note, incidentally, that IDC’s figures do also include Chromebooks.
IDC does note some slightly more positive signs for 2016: “while some very attractive new PCs have been launched, the market is taking some time to respond to new OS and hardware configurations – deciding when to upgrade and evaluating slim, convertible, detachable, and touch variations vs. more traditional PCs.” Furthermore, there is strong growth in detachable/convertible tablet PC models, which IDC counts separately from traditional PCs. “Adding those units to PC shipments would boost growth by roughly 6 percentage points in the fourth quarter and 3 percentage points for all of 2015.”
As this suggests, with Windows 10, Microsoft at least has an OS that is somewhat exposed to the new growth areas – imagine how much more dire things would look if Windows couldn’t fit into a mobile or tablet/convertible form factor at all. All the same, the writing appears to be on the wall for the traditional PC. Don’t expect to be reading your ebooks on an old style laptop in the years ahead.