What do PC Sales Numbers Mean and for Whom?

On April 11, 2016, Gartner, Inc. released its estimates of global sales of PCs for the first quarter of 2016, “Gartner Says Worldwide PC Shipments Declined 9.6 Percent in First Quarter of 2016”. The decline adds another quarter to an historical trend of declines in these sales arguably dating back to the financial crisis in 2007–2008.

Because the history of the decline in PC sales conforms to the financial crisis and its aftermath, perhaps it makes sense to attribute this change in buying not to a migration of consumers from PCs to mobile computing devices but, rather, to changes in employment for so-called “knowlege workers”.

Certainly a migration to mobile computing has occured, but the market segment in question is “knowledge workers” sitting at desks in offices. Despite pervasive BYOD, for this segment, in my opinion, the effect of this migration is rather minimal.

I argue substantially fewer people are working at desks. So employers are neither refreshing PCs on desktops, nor are they purchasing new PCs for rare instances where more people are required, in the office, to get things done.

If readers are sympathetic to my position, then, perhaps, it is even more helpful to look back as far as the mid 1990s for a starting point for this trend. I pick the mid 1990s since the Internet as a new medium for communication (and, as it has turned out, for so much more) became an important factor for both employment (how people work) and computing methods.

So, if an important correlation exists between buying patterns for PCs and employment realities for knowledge workers, then the vendors to this market worth studying should not be purveyors of chips or O/Ss, but businesses selling PCs to enterprise business consumers (and comparably sized organizations in the public and not-for-profit sectors). For this reason, the last several quarters have been better for Microsoft (O/S), Intel (chips) and NVIDIA (chips) than has been the case for HP and Dell. The latter, in fact, migrated into a private company, perhaps as a result of the decline in need for desktop PCs.

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