PC Sales Topple To 2011 Levels, Tablets Continue Decline

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The global PC market had a rough first quarter as demand continued to fall. Hybrid devices took the lead as tablets fell farther behind, according to market research firm Canalys.

The future of the global PC market looks bleak, as indicated by Q1 sales figures from market research firm Canalys.

During the first quarter of 2016, worldwide PC shipments reached 101 million units. This marks a 13% volume drop from the same quarter a year ago, and brings the market to its lowest point since Q2 2011.

Canalys' numbers take into account shipments of desktops, notebooks, two-in-ones, and tablets. While shipments were slow across all categories, some types of devices fared better than others.

Two-in-one devices led the pack, with shipments of hybrids growing a little over 13% during the first quarter. Tablets fared the worst, with fewer than 39 million shipments, which marked a 15% drop from Q1 2015, and the sixth straight quarter of decline for slates.

This data is the latest indication of buyer preference turning away from tablets and towards detachables. According to a recent report from IDC, tablet shipments dropped 14.7% year-over-year during Q1 2016, while two-in-one devices saw triple-digit shipment increases in the same time frame.

"The tablet boom has faded in the distance and the market is fully mature," said Canalys senior analyst Tim Coulling in a prepared statement released May 9. "Global shipment declines are expected to continue unless vendors bring transformational innovation to the market."

It's worth noting that shipments of detachables were not equally distributed around the globe, and that PC shipment numbers varied greatly across geographies.

The PC market was least affected in North America, where shipments fell 5% in Q1 2016 compared with the same quarter a year ago. The market got a boost from large-screen detachables, such as Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. Canalys expects two-in-one devices like these will continue to perform well in the US and other high-income markets.

In contrast, PC shipments in Asia Pacific and Greater China fell 14% in Q1 2016 compared to the same period a year ago. The Chinese market experienced its third straight quarter of double-digit decline. It seems as the quality of smartphones improves and prices continue to fall, low-income consumers no longer view notebooks and tablets as essential products.

The EMEA market saw PC shipments fall 15% in Q1 2016 compared to Q1 2015, and notebooks declined 18% in the same timeframe. Canalys anticipates a smaller decline for the next quarter in this region, though year-over-year comparisons will be better for Western Europe than for Middle Eastern and African markets, which both struggle with a difficult macro-economic environment.

Apple was the market leader in PC sales this quarter, with 14 million device shipments. Still, this marks a 17% year-over-year decline for Cupertino. Lenovo came in second, with 25,000 fewer shipments than Apple. HP came in third, Dell in fourth, and Samsung in fifth.

The future looks bleak for PC vendors. Analysts don't anticipate the downward trend will reverse any time soon. "The global PC market had a bad start to 2016, and it is difficult to see any bright spots for vendors in the coming quarters," Coulling stated. He also noted how sales will be affected by a decline in first-time buyers.

"The number of people looking to buy their first PC is at an all-time low, and 2016 is likely to bring yet more turmoil to global PC vendors," said Coulling.

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