Personal computer shipments post worst quarter on record, says IDC

By Shannon Davis, Web Editor

PC shipments fall, post worst quarter on recordIn another sign of the worldwide shift in preferred personal devices, PC shipments posted the steepest decline ever in a single quarter, according to the International Data Corporation Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker (IDC).

Worldwide PC shipments totaled 76.3 million units in the first quarter of 2013, down -13.9 percent compared to the same quarter in 2012 and worse than the forecast decline of -7.7 percent, according to the IDC. Despite some mild improvements in the economic environment, PC shipments were down significantly across all regions compared to a year ago, marking the worst quarter reported since IDC began tracking the PC market in 1994. The results also marked the fourth consecutive quarter of year-on-year shipment declines.

The reduction in shipments isn’t entirely shocking, given the obvious cannibalization from tablets and smartphones. Smartphones shipments are expected to continue their historic rise at a rate of 24 percent CAGR from 2011 to 2016, according to Andy Oberst, Strategic Vice President of Qualcomm, and PC makers are collectively bracing for the change, as other indicators have risen throughout the past year. DRAM content growth is reported slowing, as slim notebooks have limited space for it, and tablets and smartphones have no use for it at all. Instead, its low-power variant, mobile DRAM, is seeing an increase. Additionally, the chip market outlook was downgraded in 2012, with the weak PC market mostly to blame.

"Although the reduction in shipments was not a surprise, the magnitude of the contraction is both surprising and worrisome," said David Daoud, IDC Research Director, Personal Computing. "The industry is going through a critical crossroads, and strategic choices will have to be made as to how to compete with the proliferation of alternative devices and remain relevant to the consumer. Vendors will have to revisit their organizational structures and go to market strategies, as well as their supply chain, distribution, and product portfolios in the face of shrinking demand and looming consolidation."

PC makers had pinned their hopes on the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS, which is a complete overhaul of the operating system with touch-screen capabilities. Unfortunately, these new shipment trends are indicating that the upgraded operating system has not had the desired effect on consumers.

Bob O’Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, believes it is clear that Windows 8 not only failed to provide a positive boost, but also appears to have slowed the market.

"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 have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices,” said O’Donnell. “Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."

Microsoft, at least in public, does not appear to be on the verge of making tough decisions at the moment, however. A Microsoft spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that, along with their partners, they planned “to continue to bring even more innovation to market across tablets and PCs.”

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