PC Sales Growth to Return in Q4, but ASPs Still Pressured

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Personal computer unit sales are now expected to turn around in Q4 from a decline to positive growth, paving the way to a healthy market recovery in 2010. ASPs remain under pressure, but pent-up demand is expected to fuel a computer refresh cycle in 2010 and 2011, according to Gartner, creating a brighter picture for PC makers like Dell, HP, Acer and Lenovo.

The PC market is now expected to post positive unit growth in the fourth quarter of 2009 in a long-awaited turnaround from what have been several quarters of decline. And that will lead to a "healthy market recovery in 2010."

Market research firm Gartner is now forecasting PC unit sales for 2009 to decline by 6 percent to 274 million, a brighter forecast than Gartner released earlier this year.  And the picture for 2010 will be even better, with PC unit sales forecast to grow by 10.3 percent.

"PC unit growth was stronger than we expected in all markets but Eastern Europe in the first quarter of 2009. In particular, consumer shipments were much stronger than we anticipated," says George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, in a prepared statement.

"However, professional shipments continued to struggle, and we think much of the growth in consumer units was due to vendors and the channel restocking inventories rather than an upsurge in demand. We expect units to contract roughly 10 percent year over year in both second and third quarter 2009 before they post positive growth in the fourth quarter."

Netbook, or mininotebook, sales continued "cushion the market's decline" in Q1 2009, with unit sales on track to reach 21 million this year and 30 million next year.

"However, mininotebook units posted their first quarter-over-quarter decline in the first quarter of 2009," Shiffler says. "While this was in part the result of the general contraction in PC shipments to the EMEA region, it also reflects increasing competition between mininotebooks and low-end mainstream mobile PCs as the former evolve toward larger screen sizes, and the latter continue to drop in price. In effect, mininotebooks are becoming just another value-based mobile PC offering."

Gartner forecasts mobile PC units to total 149 million units in 2009, a 4.1 percent increase over 2008, but spending on mobile PCs is expected to decline 12.8 percent as average selling prices (ASP) continue to drop at an unprecedented rate. That drop is driven in part by the growth of less expensive netbooks, but also by "performance-for-price" improvements in low-end mainstream laptops.

Desktop PC units are now expected to total 125 million, a 15.7 percent decline compared with 2008, according to Gartner, and spending is expected to decline 26.6 percent.

"Both mobile PC and desk-based PC units are being held back by users extending PC lifetimes and delaying replacements in response to the ongoing economic slowdown," Shiffler says. "The good news for the industry is that delayed replacements won't be lost replacements. Our research indicates replacements should grow strongly in 2010 and 2011, helping to power the market's recovery."

In spite of the brightening picture for PCs, Gartner analysts say the release of Windows 7 in October won’t be much of a driver for the PC market’s return to growth.  

"Although the buzz surrounding Windows 7 has generally been quite positive, we don't expect the market to significantly deviate from its normal seasonal trends in reaction to its release," says Shiffler. "Unless Microsoft mounts a major marketing campaign in support of Windows 7, we think consumers will simply adopt the new operating system as they would normally buy new PCs and/or replace old ones. As for professional users, we still expect them to put off adopting the new OS for at least a year until they have fully tested their applications against it."

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com