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Get ready to be underwhelmed. Worldwide unit shipments of PCs in the fourth quarter of 2017 either declined 2% from the year-earlier quarter (that’s according to new figures from Gartner) or rose by less than 1% (according to the latest from IDC).

For the full year 2017, PC unit shipments worldwide also dropped from their 2016 levels.

According to IDC, 259.5 million PC units were shipped worldwide last year, for a yearly decline of 0.2%.

But according to Gartner, it was even worse: 262.5 million units shipped worldwide for a year-on-year drop of 2.8%. That makes Q4:17 the 13th consecutive quarter, and 2017 the sixth consecutive year, of declining global PC shipments, Gartner adds.

The differences are due to differences in how Gartner and IDC each define the PC market. IDC includes desktops, notebooks and workstations. Gartner casts a larger net, including not only those devices, but also what it calls “ultramobile premiums” such as the Microsoft Surface. Either way, Q4 wasn’t great.

Tough conditions

In the U.S., sales were even slower, with PC unit shipments declining sharply. According to Gartner, Q4:17 shipments of PC in the U.S. totaled 15.2 million units, marking a year-on-year decline of 8%.

Similarly, 4 of the 5 top PC vendors suffered unit-sales declines in the U.S. during Q4. HP was the only one of the group that saw its U.S. unit shipments grow in the quarter.

Both IDC and Gartner agree on the order of those top 5. Worldwide and by units shipped, it’s HP at number 1, followed by Lenovo, Dell, Apple and then Asus and Acer essentially tied.

Consolidation is on the rise. The top 4 suppliers — again, that’s HP, Lenovo, Dell and Apple — collectively accounted for 64% of all PCs shipped last year, according to Gartner. By way of comparison, in 2011 their collective share was just 45%.

Some strength after all

Here's something to boost your mood: IDC found the figures stronger than expected. For Q4, IDC had expected a unit-shipment decline of 1.7%. So the 0.7% increase, though tiny, was stronger than it had predicted.

IDC says 2 factors helped. One was a shortage of SSD devices, which led PC manufacturers to load up on these storage devices before prices rose too high. The other was slack consumer demand for tablets. That led manufacturers to focus instead on both ultralight/ultrathin laptops and gaming systems.

Changing market?

All this leads Gartner market analyst Mikako Kitagawa to expect the PC market to change in serious and dramatic ways.

For one, Kitagawa says, PCs are no longer popular holiday gifts.

For another, consumers no longer seek the cheapest PC. Instead, they look for quality and functionality.

“This will increase PC average selling prices and improve profitability in the long run,” Kitagawa says. “However, until this point is reached, the market will have to go through the shrinking phase caused by fewer PC users.”

Underwhelmed yet? You’re welcome.

 

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