PC shipment growth drops to virtually zero in Q4

For the first time since early 2001, growth comes to a halt in the PC industry.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read

After several years of seemingly tireless 15 percent quarterly growth, the PC industry hit a wall at the end of 2008.

Overall PC shipments worldwide dropped 0.4 percent to 77.3 million units during the fourth quarter, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker study released Wednesday. The results are more alarming for the embattled industry considering that the quarter--the worst in several years--wasn't helped out more by the holiday shopping season. There hasn't been an overall drop in shipments since the second quarter of 2001, after the last recession.

"We had projected growth of about 6.5 percent (for the fourth) quarter. To come in basically at zero shows how fast the market has deteriorated. We were just at 14 percent in third quarter," said Loren Loverde, PC market analyst for IDC.

At the end of the third quarter of 2008, IDC was still projecting a small amount of growth (less than 3 percent) for most quarters of 2009, but so many factors have changed since then, Loverde said.

"We've had basically lower GDP projections, questions about how U.S. bailout money is going to be spent... The momentum of deteriorating economic conditions is going to continue," he said. "So it's safe to say 2009 will come in below expectations."

While worldwide market leader Hewlett-Packard managed to eke out 3.1 percent growth in shipments, second-place Dell saw a 6.3 percent decrease. Lenovo also saw its global shipments drop almost 5 percent.

There were a few bright spots in the midst of the economic gloom. Acer, Apple, and Toshiba, all heavily invested in notebooks and therefore more insulated from the long-declining desktop market, saw high rates of growth.

Acer's momentum in Europe continued, but the Taiwanese manufacturer also made significant headway in the U.S. during the quarter while expanding its presence at retail. "Acer really went after low-cost portables and they shipped significant volume through Best Buy," said Loverde.

Specifically the PC maker has found success with its Acer One Netbook, where it's been incredibly aggressive on price compared to market leader HP.

Apple's done well for opposite reasons, growing 7.5 percent despite refusing to offer a computer for less than $999. The Mac maker's market share expanded again in the U.S., reaching 7.2 percent, the highest in at least a decade.

And while the emerging Netbook category will continue to expand, it hasn't proved itself as a significant help to the industry's growth as of yet. Almost 5 million Netbooks shipped in the fourth quarter, doubling the total for all of 2008. That brings Netbooks' share of the portable PC market to 7 percent, an impressive start for a category that essentially didn't exist until a little over a year ago. IDC expects Netbook volumes to double in 2009.

Update 2:27 p.m. PST: Gartner has also released its results for the fourth quarter. It recorded essentially similar results as IDC, but slightly higher volumes at 78.1 million PCs shipped for the quarter. That resulted in 1.1 percent growth from the same quarter a year ago.