2003 a banner year for PC market?

Research firm Gartner revises its 2003 forecasts for the PC market and predicts that worldwide unit shipments could hit a new high.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Worldwide unit shipments of personal computers could hit a new high in 2003, according to revised estimates from research firm Gartner.

Gartner adjusted its previous forecasts to show that unit shipments in the PC market will grow from 148.1 million units in 2002 to 161.3 million in 2003, a new watermark for the industry, Gartner analyst Kiyomi Yamada said.

The unit shipment increase, comparatively vaster than the firm's earlier forecast, is the result of Gartner adjusting its method of accounting for unit shipments to include units it previously did not count, Yamada said.

The research firm revised its PC unit shipment numbers for at least the last six years after noticing a discrepancy between sales of components, such as processors, and finished PCs. The divergence pointed to a number of previously unrecognized so-called white-box PCs, according to Yamada.

White-box PCs are machines that usually are assembled and sold by small companies. The white-box market, both inside and outside the United States, is relatively large and has been gaining strength of late, according to analysts. But, because of the size and location of many white-box makers, it has been difficult to determine an exact number of their shipments.

Gartner?s new shipment figures add 16 million units to its 2002 tally and 22 million to its forecast for 2003. The research firm previously expected PC shipments for 2002 to total 132 million units and shipments in 2003 to be between 136.9 million and 138.7 million.

Fluctuating forecasts for the PC industry have been frequent in the past few years. The downturn and a slow recovery, combined with the rise of the white-box market, have forced Gartner and IDC to adjust their predictions often. IDC has already revised its PC shipment figures to account for the white-box PC market.

IDC?s most recent prediction calls for a 2003 unit shipment increase of 6.3 percent to 145.2 million, but the firm may revise that number upward slightly, based on rapid adoption of notebooks, said IDC analyst Roger Kay.

Gartner?s new numbers make 2002 the best year on record so far, beating the 146.2 million unit total in 2000 by nearly 2 million. Shipments declined to 141.5 million units in 2001, Gartner?s revised figures show.

But while the PC market will fare better in 2003 than it did in past years, it?s still a long ways from posting the high double-digit growth rates seen in past years. Gartner?s forecast, which calls for an 8.9 percent increase, is only slightly higher than the firm?s previous forecast of a 7.2 percent rise. Gartner attributed the increase to better-than-expected sales in the second quarter, which could boost shipments during all of 2003, Yamada said.

Gartner said a recovery in growth will hinge on the world economy and resulting increases in spending by businesses. Should a real recovery begin soon, 2003 PC sales could end up even better than expected. But at least some analysts are concerned about sales in Europe.

"If the economy turns at the end of (the fourth quarter), we may see a pickup," Yamada said. "But it?s more likely that the (PC market) recovery will begin in (the first quarter) of 2004."