Notebook market inches up, but still suffers long-term drop

Global shipments of portable PCs rose 6 percent in the third quarter, but year over year the numbers have dropped, says IHS.

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
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The walking dead notebook market showed some signs of life last quarter.

Shipments of mobile PC worldwide reached 47.9 million in the third quarter, a rise of 6 percent from the second quarter, research firm IHS said on Wednesday. That percentage represented the largest sequential gain for the moribund notebook market since a 7 percent rise in the third quarter of 2011.

That's the good news. The bad? Notebook shipments continued to plummet on a year-by-year basis.

The third quarter results were down 9 percent from the same quarter last year, the fifth consecutive quarterly drop. The decline was also the second worst drop since shipments fell by 14 percent during the previous quarter, making it clear to IHS that the market will face its second consecutive year of contraction in 2013.

"Amid the onslaught of tablets, the notebook PC market now is desperately seeking any reason for optimism -- and the sequential growth in the third quarter is offering a ray of hope," Craig Stice, senior principal analyst of compute platforms for IHS, said in a statement. "However, even with a respite from the sequential decline and a few other hopeful developments, the mobile PC business is still on track to decline for the full year of 2013."

Despite the gloom and doom, IHS pointed to a few promising developments for the market.

Intel's new Haswell processor and its upcoming Bay Trail chip will bump up the speed and extend the battery life of ultrabooks, factors that could lure in buyers. Microsoft is due to cut off support for Windows XP next April. That action could prompt a large number of users to upgrade their desktop PCs, triggering greater excitement about new software and hardware among notebook buyers.

But the path ahead remains uncertain.

"All hopes are now pinned on the fourth quarter, which could end up as one of the most important holiday seasons yet for the PC industry," Stice said. "With various new technologies launching, the PC trade believes it is playing its best hand in years. Many eyes will be watching to see how the rest of the year -- to say nothing of 2014 -- turns out."