The PC Market Just (Barely) Bounced Off the Bottom (Premium)

Gartner and IDC have weighed in on PC market share for the first quarter and come away, as always, with a slightly different take on how things are going. But the truth is out there.

So let's consider the existential question we ask ourselves every quarter. Has the PC market finally rebounded, if only slightly, after five years of falling sales?

That depends on whom you ask.

So let's start with the naysayers. Gartner said this week that PC shipments declined 2.4 percent, year over year, in the first calendar quarter, hitting 62.2 million units. And it even has a new milestone to consider: "The first quarter of 2017 was the first time since 2007 that the PC market experienced shipments below 63 million units in a quarter," it said. Ah boy.

But IDC disagrees. It claims that the PC market experienced its first growth in five years, with PC sales jumping---well, limping---up by .6 percent to 60.3 million units. IDC's big new milestone? It says that HP has reclaimed the top spot from Lenovo for the first time in four years. That bit is important, but we'll get to that in a moment.

First, how does one reconcile these divergent positions? The same way I always do, by averaging them. In this consolidated view, the PC market contracted by almost exactly 1 percentage point, with unit sales falling from 61.88 million in Q1 2016 to 61.25 million units in the previous quarter.

Technically, that is still a drop. From a pseudo-statistical and perhaps overly positive standpoint, I could by convinced to call that flat.

But there are other questions.

For starters, why are the IDC and Gartner numbers---which are in fact computed estimates---so different?

It comes down to methodology, and to semantics. For example, Gartner's data "includes desk-based PCs, notebook PCs and ultramobile premiums (such as Microsoft Surface), but not Chromebooks or iPads." IDC, meanwhile, apparently does include Chromebooks in its count, but it doesn't include iPads, which would skew the results enormously.

In my view, Chromebooks are PCs, certainly more so than are iPads. This suggests that IDC's data is "more correct," if you will, meaning that PC growth did sort of grow a bit, finally, in the first quarter.

But Chromebooks were not what's responsible for that growth, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere.

Instead, we can and should credit the strength of HP to that jump, and to this milestone: IDC says that HP's PC sales leaped 13.1 percent to 11.6 million units, while Gartner sees this as a 6.5 percent leap to 12.1 million units. However you slice it, though, HP saw much bigger growth than any other PC maker in the quarter, and it almost single-handily propped up the industry all by itself.

For its part, Apple saw Mac unit sales grew 4.1 percent to 4.2 million units in Q1, according to IDC. And even when you average that with Gartner's numbers, Mac unit sales grew about 4 percent. So they helped as well.

But Chromebook? No. IDC...

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