Despite a fair dose of doom and gloom, 2013 was a big year for the computer industry. Through November 2013, 14.4 million desktops, notebooks, and tablets were sold through U.S. commercial channels, according to The NPD Group’s Distributor Track and Commercial Reseller Tracking Service.
That 14.4 million is a 25.4 percent increase over 2012. NPD called it a “stellar performance” that follows the 3.1 percent sales increase the industry posted the year before. In addition NPD reported that desktop sales through the channel increased 8.5 percent, notebook sales grew 28.9 percent, and tablet sales jumped 49 percent over the same time period in 2012.
Were the PC doom predictors wrong? Or is the death of PCs just a little farther off?
Windows, Apple Notebooks Dip
“The market for personal computing devices in commercial markets continues to shift and change,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD. “New products like Chromebooks, and reimagined items like Windows tablets, are now supplementing the revitalization that iPads started in personal computing devices. It is no accident that we are seeing the fruits of this change in the commercial markets as business and institutional buyers exploit the flexibility inherent in the new range of choices now open to them.”
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers. According to NPD, Windows notebooks showed no growth over 2012. Sales were flat. However, Windows desktops increased by nearly 10 percent. Meanwhile, Apple sales for notebooks and desktops combined fell by 7 percent.
What’s going on? Chromebooks and tablets continue making their mark. Chromebooks, and Android tablets collectively, had the biggest impact on sales growth, with 1.76 million units going through the channel from January through November 2013, compared to just 400,000 units in 2012.
Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales, up from a negligible share in the prior year, and 8 percent of all computer and tablet sales through November, up from one tenth of a percent in 2012 -- the largest share increase across the various product segments.
Tablet sales captured more than 22 percent of all personal computing device sales sold through the commercial channel through November, Windows tablet sales nearly tripled off a very small base. Android tablet sales grew more than 160 percent. Apple iPad sales accounted for 59 percent of the volume in the tablet market.
HP led commercial personal computing devices. But even with a 6 percent increase in total notebook sales its small exposure to the booming tablet market drove its share down, NPD observes.
Lenovo remained the second largest channel vendor with notebook sales up almost 18 percent and, desktops up 30 percent. Even with strong tablet growth of over 200 percent Lenovo’s overall unit share remained flat as it too suffered from a lack of presence in the tablet segment.
Apple’s dominant position in the tablet market, which accounted for more than 80 percent of its commercial sales made it the third largest brand. Samsung, as a result of its rapid expansion of Chromebook and Android tablet sales, was ranked number four.
“Tepid Windows PC sales allowed brands with a focus on alternative form factors or operating systems, like Apple and Samsung, to capture significant share of a market traditionally dominated by Windows devices,” said Baker.
“Yet the Windows PC in commercial channels is clearly not dead, and its biggest brand proponents, HP and Lenovo, remain deeply committed to that product. However, as businesses upgrade from older machines and operating systems in the year ahead, the long-term trend is clearly toward greater hardware diversity, which all manufacturers will need to embrace in order to continue to grow, he added.”
Understanding the Data
We caught up with Ross Rubin, a principal analyst at Reticle Research, to get his take on the data. He told us NPD is referring to its commercial data, which is what businesses are buying as opposed to consumer sales. That, he said, helps explain the relatively high share of Chromebooks.
“Chromebooks are a much more equally managed resource. They are much more resilient to viruses and other issues that we tend to see with traditional computing platforms like Windows,” he said. “That said, the data also indicated that tablets have been growing. That’s likely due in part to [a] stronger showing of tablets that are backward compatible with Windows software as opposed to some of the Windows RT devices we saw last year that had [a] much more significant dearth of software available.”
His conclusion: This is good news for the broader definition of a PC productivity device in a form factor larger than the smartphones today. However, he added, the definition of the category has to be expanded to show these kinds of results. “It has to include alternative platforms and new form factors that are pulling away from the traditional bread and butter of the category,” he said, “which has been the Window-based clamshell.”