Worldwide PC shipments totaled 90.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 4.9 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2011, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. Analysts said the PC industry’s problems point to something beyond a weak economy.

“Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by ‘cannibalizing’ PC sales, but by causing PC users to shift consumption to tablets rather than replacing older PCs,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, in the press release. “Whereas as once we imagined a world in which individual users would have both a PC and a tablet as personal devices, we increasingly suspect that most individuals will shift consumption activity to a personal tablet, and perform creative and administrative tasks on a shared PC. There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be exception and not the norm. Therefore, we hypothesize that buyers will not replace secondary PCs in the household, instead allowing them to age out and shifting consumption to a tablet.”

MacDailyNews Take: No need to “hypothesize” this or that, none other than Steve Jobs told you what would happen in 2010:

When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular. Innovations like automatic transmission and power steering and things that you didn’t care about in a truck as much started to become paramount in cars… PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of x people. – Steve Jobs

During the holiday season, consumers no longer viewed PCs as the number one gift item. Given a burgeoning variety of increasingly more attractive devices and services, consumers directed their attention elsewhere. Analysts said there was uptake of very low priced notebooks as a part of mega holiday deals, but this uptake did little to boost holiday PC sales.

The launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 did not have a significant impact on PC shipments in the fourth quarter. Analysts said some PC vendors offered somewhat lackluster form factors in their Windows 8 offerings and missed the excitement of touch. New products are coming to market, and this could drive churn within the installed base.

HP regained the top position in worldwide PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2012 (see Table 1), however the company’s shipments did not grow compared to a year ago. Analysts said HP most likely gave up a certain margin level to gain market shares. HP was successful in managing large retail deals targeting Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch and holiday sales in selected regions.

Table 1: Preliminary Worldwide PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 4Q12 (Units)
Gartner: Preliminary Worldwide PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 4Q12 (Units)
Note: Data includes desk-based PCs and mobile PCs, including mini-notebooks but not media tablets such as the iPad. Data is based on the shipments selling into channels. Source: Gartner (January 2013)

Lenovo dropped to the No. 2 position in the fourth quarter of 2012, but it experienced the best growth rate (8.2 percent) among the top five PC vendors worldwide. Lenovo’s growth exceeded regional growth rates in North America, EMEA and Asia/Pacific, but lower than the industry average in Latin America and Japan. In North America, Lenovo performed well by expanding in the retail market and protecting professional market.

In the U.S., PC shipments totaled 17.5million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 2.1 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2011 (see Table 2). Due to the tight inventory control and preparation for the Windows 8 launch, most PC vendors were able to ship Windows 8 PCs to the retail space. However, PC sell-through was rather weak which leaves some level of inventory concerns for vendors in the consumer market.

“Consumer’s holiday spending went into other products and services, and U.S. holiday sales became less important for PC sales. For professionals, the fourth quarter is typically a good sales season because of last minutes PC purchases before the tax year-end. Our early research indicates that there was good growth in professional PC sales,” Ms. Kitagawa said.

Table 2: Preliminary U.S. PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 4Q12 (Units)
Gartner: Preliminary U.S. PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 4Q12 (Units)
Note: Data includes desk-based PCs and mobile PCs, including mini-notebooks but not media tablets such as the iPad. Data is based on the shipments selling into channels. Source: Gartner (January 2013)

PC shipments in EMEA totaled 28.1 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 9.6 percent decrease from the fourth quarter of 2011 (see Table 3). Western Europe remained the weak point across EMEA, as Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Africa saw growth quarter-on-quarter.

“The PC market continues to face many headwinds. The launch of Windows 8 had no impact on PC demand, especially as Ultramobile products were both limited in supply, as well as being priced too high,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “The holiday season mostly saw retailers clearing Windows 7 notebook inventory or driving volume of low-end notebooks. Furthermore, the increasing choice of tablets at decreasing price points no doubt became a favorite Christmas present ahead of PCs.”

“In the fourth quarter of 2012, mobile PC shipments decreased 11 percent while desktop PC shipments declined 6 percent year-on-year,” said Isabelle Durand, principal research analyst at Gartner. “However, all-in-one form factor models from Asus, Lenovo and HP look like a promising platform for the future.”

HP retained the No. 1 position in the fourth quarter of 2012, thanks to good results across all products in the professional PC segment. Dell performed weakly, losing nearly 2 percent share in the fourth quarter of 2012. Among the top five vendors, only Lenovo showed year-on-year growth and its strong performance in the quarter helped it displace Acer from the No. 2 position.

In the second half of 2012, the EMEA PC market experienced two consecutive quarters of decline, resulting in overall shipments for 2012 declining 2.8 percent from 2011. Western Europe lost another 10 percent of volume, indicating likely structural changes to the market rather than weak demand.

Table 3: Preliminary EMEA PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 4Q12 (Units)
Gartner: Preliminary EMEA PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 4Q12 (Units)
Note: Data includes desk-based PCs and mobile PCs, including mini-notebooks but not media tablets such as the iPad. Data is based on the shipments selling into channels. Source: Gartner (January 2013)

PC shipments in Asia/Pacific totaled 29.9 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 1.8 percent decline from the fourth quarter of 2011. Vendors struggled to offer compelling products to convince buyers to upgrade and attract new buyers as consumers’ interest continues to be on smartphones and tablets. The introduction of Windows 8 met with lukewarm response and availability was primarily on the higher-end models, which were priced beyond the mainstream price point for volume sales.

For the year, PC shipments were 352.7 million units, a 3.5 percent decline from 2011 (see Table 4). HP retained the top spot in the global PC market, accounting for 16 percent of the market. Lenovo was the No. 2 vendor with 14.8 percent market share. Asus showed the strongest growth among the top five vendors, with shipments increasing 17.1 percent.

Table 4: Preliminary Worldwide PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 2012 (Units)
Gartner: Preliminary Worldwide PC Vendor Unit Shipment Estimates for 2012 (Units)
Note: Data includes desk-based PCs and mobile PCs, including mini-notebooks but not media tablets such as the iPad. Data is based on the shipments selling into channels. Source: Gartner (January 2013)

These results are preliminary. Final statistics will be available soon to clients of Gartner’s PC Quarterly Statistics Worldwide by Region program. This program offers a comprehensive and timely picture of the worldwide PC market, allowing product planning, distribution, marketing and sales organizations to keep abreast of key issues and their future implications around the globe.

Source: Gartner, Inc.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s Mac sales have outgrown the Windows PC market as a whole for 27 consecutive quarters.

MacDailyNews Take: Now, as usual, back those Mac unit sales propping up the Windows PC unit totals to get the true number for Windows PCs’ decline this quarter.

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