So much for the post-PC era.
After a two-year slump, sales of personal computers are rebounding — or at least don't stink as much as they used to. A report released by IDC this week found sales only fell 1.7% in the second quarter, the lowest drop since 2012. Intel also reported strong earnings on Tuesday; profits jumped 40% in the chipmaker's second quarter. Intel, which has a strong foothold in PCs but a weaker one in tablets, credited businesses seeking replacements for their aging PCs.
"The installed base of PCs that are at least four years old is now roughly 600 million units, and we are seeing clear signs of a refresh in the enterprise and small and medium businesses," Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a conference call.
Microsoft's discontinuation of support for Windows XP on April 8 likely helped nudge those businesses. Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD, reports seeing a jump in consumer desktop sales in the United States lately.
"Notebooks have struggled. Desktops have been strong," he said. "There’s clearly a lot of people hanging on to old desktops and [the end of Windows XP support] was an impetus to upgrade."
Comparatively, tablet sales have been "flat at best,"Comparatively, tablet sales have been "flat at best," Baker said. That jibes with NPD's findings for global sales. In the second quarter, shipments of tablet PCs decreased from 59 million to 56 million year-over-year, the first such drop for the segment. NPD blamed the growth of 7-inch smartphones, which render tablets obsolete for some. The e-reader market is suffering a similar fate.
The idea that businesses and consumers considered tablets as replacements for PCs may have contributed a bit to the fall-off in PC sales, but Forrester analyst Frank Gillett says other, bigger factors made a difference. Chiefly, there was consumer and B2B resistance to moving to Windows 8 and the economy was still recovering from the 2008 crash when Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. Worldwide PC shipments fell 0.5% in 2011, then 3.5% in 2012 and 10% in 2013, according to Gartner.
Windows 8, the economy and tablets all together dented PC salesWindows 8, the economy and tablets all together dented PC sales," Gillett said. "The impact is still there, but the people who thought they could go tablet-only — and they were few in number — now realize that PCs have their place."
To be sure, that place isn't nearly as dominant as it once was. Far from being the primary hub for computing, PCs are part of a range of computing devices including smartphones and tablets. Adapting to the shift, IBM announced this week that it would put its business-focused software on Apple products, including iPhones and iPads.
Back in 2011, though, some thought the PC was on its way out. Among them were then-CEO of HP, Leo Apotheker, who was behind the company's decision to spin off its PC unit. “Consumers are changing the use of their PC,” Apotheker said at the time. “The tablet effect is real."
Three years later, that looks like an overstatement. Bob O'Donnell, founder of TECHnalysis Research, says rather than a post-PC era what we're seeing now is a post-tablet era. "Tablets may be interesting and cool, but at the end of the day, people need to get work done," he says. O'Donnell says he believes businesses are now buying PCs out of necessity. Consumers will follow suit as their larger smartphones take the place of their tablet. "Tablets are kind of nice-to-have, but people use tablets about 10% of the time. This thing about tablets are going to take over the world? Not gonna happen."
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