April 11, 2013 in Business

Personal computer sales decline steeply

First-quarter shipments down as mobile devices take share
Michael Liedtke And Peter Svensson Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A woman walks past laptop computers running Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system during its launching ceremony in Hong Kong last October.
(Full-size photo)

Top manufacturers

According to research group IDC, here are the leading manufacturers of personal computers worldwide in the first quarter of 2013:

• Hewlett-Packard Co., 12 million shipped worldwide, 15.7 percent share, down 23.7 percent from a year earlier

• Lenovo Group Ltd., 11.7 million, 15.3 percent share, unchanged

• Dell Inc., 9 million, 11.8 percent share, down 10.9 percent

• Acer Group, 6.2 million, 8.1 percent share, down 31.3 percent

• AsusTek Computer Inc., 4.4 million, 5.7 percent share, down 19.2 percent

• Others, 33.1 million, 43.4 percent share, down 10 percent

• Total, 76.3 million, down 13.9 percent.

H-P’s decline

Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest maker of PCs, saw a 24 percent drop in shipments in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

SAN FRANCISCO – The ailing personal computer market is getting weaker, and it’s starting to look as if it will never fully recover as a new generation of mobile devices reshapes the way people use technology.

The latest evidence of the PC’s infirmity emerged Wednesday with the release of two somber reports showing unprecedented declines in sales of desktop and laptop machines during the first three months of the year.

As if that news wasn’t troubling enough, it appears that a pivotal makeover of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system seems to have done more harm than good since the software was released last October.

“This is horrific news for PCs,” BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said. “It’s all about mobile computing now. We have definitely reached the tipping point.”

First-quarter shipments of PCs fell 14 percent worldwide from the same time last year, according to International Data Corp. That’s the deepest quarterly drop since the firm started tracking the industry in 1994. Another research firm, Gartner Inc., pegged the first-quarter decline at 11 percent.

The deviation stemmed in part from the firms’ slightly different definitions of PCs.

No matter how things are parsed, the PC market is in the worst shape since IBM Corp. released a desktop machine in 1981. PC sales have now fallen from their year-ago levels in four consecutive quarters, a slide that has been accelerating even amid signs that the overall economy is getting healthier.

PCs are going out of style because they typically cost more than smartphones and tablets, and aren’t as convenient to use. Most PCs sell for $500 to $1,500 while the initial out-of-pocket expense for a smartphone runs as low as $99 while an array of tablets sell for $200 to $300.

The traditional PC still has a long way to go before it becomes obsolete.

Despite the dismaying start in the first quarter, more than 300 million PCs are still expected to be sold worldwide this year. Tablet computers, a category that was insignificant until the iPad came along, is catching up rapidly: Nearly 200 million of those devices could be sold this year. Meanwhile, worldwide smartphone sales could surpass 1 billion units this year, Gillis predicted.

The growing reliance on mobile devices is creating new opportunities and tensions throughout the technology industry. Internet companies such as Yahoo Inc. and Facebook Inc. that initially designed their digital services to be primarily consumed on PCs have been scrambling to tweak things so they work better on smartphones and tablets.

But the companies most threatened by the mobile upheaval are those that depend on PCs to make most of their money. This group includes technology heavyweights such as Windows maker Microsoft, PC makers Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. and PC chip maker Intel Corp.

“It’s time for these companies to make some critical decisions and ask themselves, ‘How are we going to turn this ship around?”’ said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead.

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer thought he had come up with a tonic last fall when his company released a radical new version of Windows last fall. Windows 8 has a completely new look that’s similar to the design of the software running the most popular smartphones and tablet computers. The overhaul requires a relearning process, a leap that many consumers and corporate buyers aren’t ready to take.

All signs so far point to Windows 8 being a flop.

“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,” IDC Vice President Bob O’Donnell said.

The newest version of Windows is designed to work well with touch-sensitive screens, but the displays add to the cost of a PC. Together, the changes and higher prices “have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices,” O’Donnell said.

In a statement, Microsoft described the PC market as “evolving and highly dynamic.” Referring to a number that it has previously released, the company said it has sold more than 60 million copies of Windows 8 so far. That is “a strong start by any measure,” Microsoft said. “Along with our partners we continue to bring even more innovation to market across tablets and PCs.”

In its tally, IDC excludes tablets, even if they run PC-style software. It also excludes any device that has a detachable keyboard. With the release of Windows 8, PC makers have been reviving their experiments with tablet-laptop hybrids, some of which have detachable keyboards. Consumers are likely to have shifted some of their buying away from traditional laptops and toward these new devices, which means that the total sales decline of Windows-based devices might not be quite as drastic as IDC’s numbers suggest.

Hewlett-Packard., the world’s largest PC maker, saw a 24 percent drop in shipments in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago. That was HP’s steepest quarterly decline since the company bought rival PC maker Compaq a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the industry’s No. 2, China’s Lenovo Group, is benefiting from sales to first-time buyers in China and other developing countries. As a result, it held sales steady, alone among the world’s top 5 PC makers, according to IDC’s figures.

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