SAN FRANCISCO — One thing is certain: global PC shipments declined for a sixth straight year in 2017, though market watchers disagreed about their performance in the fourth quarter of the year.
IDC estimated that fourth quarter PC shipments increased slightly (less than 1 percent), while rival Gartner said they declined by 2 percent. The disparity between the estimates is partly explained by differences in the way the two firms define the PC category — Gartner's estimates do not include Chromebooks, for example.
Both firms agreed that PC shipments were down again overall in 2017, with Gartner estimating a 2.8 percent decline and IDC saying the annual decline was about 0.2 percent. Both companies said they saw reasons for optimism in the results.
IDC said 2017 was the most stable year for PC shipments since 2011, the last year that PC shipments increased on a global basis.
"The fourth quarter results showed some potentially encouraging headway against the difficult environment in retail and consumer PCs," said Jay Chou, research manager with IDC's personal computing device tracker, in a press statement.
Chou said that pockets of consumers — enticed by a growing number of PCs with all-day battery life, high portability and other advanced features — are taking a serious look at revamped PCs. "However, the overall PC market remains a challenging one," Chou said.
According to Mikako Kitagawa, a principal analyst at Gartner, fourth quarter PC shipments were hamstrung by a steep decline in the U.S. market, which offset growth in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan, Latin America and Europe.
"The fourth quarter results confirmed again that PCs are no longer popular holiday gift items," Kitagawa said through a press statements. This does not mean that PCs will disappear from households."
Instead, Kitagawa said, PCs will become more specialized, purpose-driven devices. "PC buyers will look for quality and functionality rather than looking for the lowest price, which will increase PC average selling prices and improve profitability in the long run," Kitagawa said. "However, until this point is reached, the market will have to go through the shrinking phase caused by fewer PC users."
Gartner and IDC agreed that HP was the leading PC vendor in the fourth quarter and for all of 2017 with market share of greater than 20 percent. Both companies ranked Lenovo second and Dell third for the quarter and for the year.
— Dylan McGrath is the editor-in-chief of EE Times.