PC Shipments Decline in Q4, Ultrabooks Not Helping

For the first time in ten years, the worldwide market for PCs has declined with shipments down 1.4 percent for the 4th calendar quarter of 2011. Ultrabooks have not stemmed the tide. Lenovo has pushed Dell into third place, according to Gartner on Thursday. Apple’s share continues to climb.

In the U.S., Apple’s share of the PC market, meaning desk-based PCs, mobile PCs and mini-notebooks (but not tablets) went up from 9 percent in Q4 2010 to 11.6 percent in Q4 2011. However, Apple’s total sales still aren’t sufficient to put the company in the top five for global PC shipments.

Gartner data 4Q2011

Microsoft, at CES, is warning investors that their revenue could be hurt by this result and blamed the decline on the reduced supply of hard disk drives. However, most of Apple’s Macs still ship with hard disks, and while their demand for product may be smaller, it still raises questions about Microsoft’s explanation.

Apple is expected to report sales of about 13 million iPads sold in the holiday quarter, and if that were combined with the estimated 5 million Macs, Apple would be competing with Lenovo for the number two slot in the chart above. But the separation of the product categories makes the point clearer: PC sales are flat for the year (0.5 percent increase by Gartner, down 0.1 percent by IDC) slumped in the 4th quarter, all for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, Apple’s iPad sales are soaring, expected to be up about 68 percent year over year. Combining the data would obscure that trend.

Not all PC makers are hurting, just the aggregate sales. Gartner reported that Lenovo and Asus were big winners globally with growth near 20 percent.

sAus ZenbookAsus Zenbook

According to Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa, “Ultrabooks were quietly introduced into the market during the 4Q11 holiday season. Ultrabooks didn’t seem to draw consumers’ attention. Consumers had very little understanding and awareness of Ultrabooks, and only a small group of consumers was willing to pay the price premium for such models.” Obviously that could change in the coming months as awareness increases.

Meanwhile, as previously reported, Apple’s MacBook Air sales increased 20 percent from Q2 CY2011 to Q3. One could surmise that if customers are enticed to pay a premium for a cool, ultrathin notebook with an SSD, they’ll just as soon buy it from Apple. Not that MacBook Air prices are all that outrageous.