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There may be nothing to cheer about commodity hardware prices and margins, but two new reports from IDC offer at least the faint glimmer of hope for higher unit sales. The research company expects the PC market to experience double-digit growth through 2014, while the hardcopy peripherals market has finally rebounded following six quarters of decline.

The most positive news is that the PC market finished 2009 up 2.9 percent, driven primarily by portable PCs, where shipments climbed 18.4 percent from 2008. While there were some signs of life in the commercial segment, consumer portables were mainly the growth area, soaring 38.5 percent. However, IDC says mini-notebook growth slowed in Q4 as other notebook categories shot up 22.8 percent year over year.

The bulk of the 12.6 percent expansion predicted for 2010 should come from emerging markets, but the mature markets will chip in with 7.2 growth, with double-digit growth returning in 2011. Again, portable PCs will be the driver, accounting for 70 percent share of both commercial and consumer PCs in 2012. Revenue will take longer to recover, at 5 percent this year, and nearly 7 percent in 2011.

"With lean margins and further market consolidation remaining a harsh reality for the foreseeable future, vendors are increasingly looking to a mix of volume and specialized products to grow revenue, including new combinations of portability, performance, and the intriguing possibilities of touch computing," says Jay Chou, research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. "Overcoming challenges, such as synchronizing data across multiple devices, will be an important step in enabling adoption of more devices and expanding market growth."

Following six quarters of declines, the hardcopy peripherals market grew 3.6 percent last quarter, although shipment values declined 4.6 percent year over year to $14.3 billion in Q4. The U.S. remained the market leader in overall shipment value — $4.4 billion — and second behind Europe in shipments.

"We believe the fourth quarter will be the start of the market recovery," said Phuong Hang, program manager, Worldwide Hardcopy Peripheral Trackers.. "While this is a positive sign, the market is expected to recover slowly throughout 2010."

The color laser MFP was supplanted by the monochrome version as the key bright spot in the market, with 9.3 percent year over year growth, followed by color MFPs at 8 percent. Samsung dominated the market with 60.6 percent year over year unit growth. The inkjet market is expected to continue its technology domination, accounting for 23.8 million units last quarter. From a value perspective, IDC says the monochrome laser market held on to its top spot with $5.8 billion, and with the lowest rate of MFP penetration, is considered the largest potential MFP opportunity. The color laser market is close to surpassing the monochrome laser market in value of shipments and continues to outperform the overall hardcopy peripherals market.

Although it lost a little of its comfortable lead, down nearly 3 points to 40.8 percent for the year, HP continues to own this market, growing its Q4 shipments by 5.6 percent, although only 3 percent in the Americas. Canon inched up slightly as the number two vendor, followed by Epson, Brother and Samsung.