PCs see surprising gain in US as global decline slows, but Apple slips

PCs are seeing surprising strength, especially in the US, according to IDC. Are some tablet models starting a slow fade?

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

HP EliteBook Folio 1040: HP gained, as business laptops are seeing strength. Hewlett-Packard

The PC may be staging a comeback as interest in some tablet models slowly fades.

Global PC shipments posted a year-over-year decline of only minus 1.7 percent in the second quarter, to 74.4 million units from 75.7 million a year earlier, marking the smallest decline in global PC shipments since the second quarter of 2012, according to preliminary results from IDC.

The market researcher had projected a much larger decline. "Buoyed by both continued business PC replacements and returning consumer interest, the preliminary results for [the second quarter] are markedly better than the projected decline of [minus] 7.1 percent," IDC said in a statement.

The top five PC vendors (see chart at bottom) grew a combined 9.8 percent year over year in the second quarter.

In the US, Hewlett-Packard and Dell grew faster than the market, IDC said. "Moving forward, strong sales in the back-to-school season and healthy consumer sales in the holiday season should keep the US PC market in positive territory for the rest of the year," IDC said.

And, globally, in a reversal of fortune, low-end PCs are eating into tablet sales.

"One encouraging factor was a good intake of lower-end systems, including Chromebooks, which coincides with the recent slowing in tablet growth," said IDC analyst Jay Chou.

(In a separate report on Wednesday, NPD DisplaySearch said tablet shipments declined year-over-year for the first time.)

Windows XP upgrades at businesses are another big factor. A "sizable number" of PCs are still running Windows XP and upgrades continue to boost shipments, Chou said.

There are some caveats that come with the good news, though. "An important part of this strength is driven by the rebound from weaker demand last year and to potentially short-term replacement activity," said IDC analyst Loren Loverde.

Loverde added that IDC does not see the gains as a reason -- at least not yet -- to raise the long-term outlook for 2014. Growth in 2014 "could get closer to flat, rather than the May projection of [minus] 6 percent," Loverde said.

Market researcher Gartner chimed in, too, on Wednesday. Gartner said global PC shipments saw "flat growth" in the second quarter of 2014, based on preliminary results.

Though Gartner is "seeing a slowdown in premium tablet sales," they continue to be popular in emerging markets, where PC shipments declined.

Shipments of Apple computers were down in the US, Gartner said, seeing minus 1.3 percent growth in the second quarter compared to a year ago.

Though specific reasons weren't cited for Apple's decline, a pickup in Windows-based consumer PCs with touch capability -- something MacBooks don't offer -- is likely a contributing factor.

"Touch [enabled] devices are...widely available with decreasing price premiums compared to a year ago. The price premium is low enough for mainstream consumers to spend the extra money for the additional functionalities, such as touch," Gartner said.

Update at 4:15 p.m. PT: Adds Gartner results.

Update at 7:30 p.m. PT: Adds Apple discussion.