PC sales suffer historic slump, but 2-in-1s give hope for the future

Convertibles like Microsoft's Surface range could turn things around

Surface Book

There's some bad news for the PC industry with the latest figures from one market watcher, with the drop in 2015's fourth quarter shipments being the largest the market has ever witnessed.

According to IDC, PC shipments across the globe reached 71.9 million units in Q4, which was 10.6% down on the final quarter of 2014. That's the largest year-on-year decline ever to hit the PC market, exceeding the slump of 9.8% that occurred in 2013.

The total number of PCs shipped over the course of 2015 fell below 300 million units for the first time since 2008 – so this clearly wasn't a good year all round. Why? As IDC notes, there are numerous pressures on the PC industry all conspiring to bring those numbers down.

Tablet turmoil

These include competition from ever more sophisticated smartphones and tablets (even though they're having their own wobbles), and developments with operating systems, with the cessation of support for Windows XP in April 2014 and discounts on new PCs helping to drive sales in that year, with a resulting falloff in 2015. The launch of Windows 10 didn't help last year's falloff either, as the free upgrade gave many folks a 'new PC' experience without having to buy a new machine.

The European market also suffered from social disruption and economic instability in general, including currency volatility. There's also the simple fact that PCs have much more longevity these days, and hardware isn't obsolete nearly as quickly as it used to be, so upgrades are less frequent. As you can see, there are a lot of negative factors coming together here…

Convertible comeback?

There is a bright spot, though, and that comes when we look at shiny new 2-in-1s. Convertible PCs – i.e. those like the Surface with detachable displays – are showing speedy growth, although IDC currently doesn't include them in its PC figures.

If it had included these shipments, Q4 growth would have been upped by around 6%, and 2015's overall figures would have seen a boost of 3%, a not inconsiderable amount.

Better still, these 2-in-1 devices are predicted to make an even bigger impact in 2016, and IDC reckons that if those sales were taken into account they could swing a forecast of a 3.1% decline in PC growth this year to a positive 1 to 2% increase. That would certainly be an impressive turnaround on 2015's figures.

As for the performance of individual PC vendors, Lenovo remained top dog with a 21.4% market share for Q4, up from 20% the previous year.

HP stayed essentially flat on 19.9% in second place, with Dell in third on 14.1%, and Asus tied with Apple for fourth position with a 7.9% share of the market. Only the latter two showed growth in actual PC shipments, with Asus picking up 0.8% year-on-year, and Apple being boosted to the tune of 2.8%.

Windows PC iPhone graph
Apple's iPhone shipment numbers actually overtook slumping Windows PC shipments in 2015 (Image: Asymco, Horace Dediu)

So Macs are doing well, and hit 5.7 million shipments for the fourth quarter. As a side-note, Asymco notes that number of iPhone shipments crested 300 million, and overtook Windows PC shipments in 2015. And bear in mind that's just Apple smartphones, and doesn't include the iPad – check out the above graph for the full picture.

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