Gartner Sees Silver Lining In Worldwide PC Shipments

On Wednesday, Gartner said it expects worldwide shipments of PCs to reach 285 million in 2009, down just 2 percent from 291 million units in 2008. The research firm in June predicted a 6 percent decrease in worldwide shipments year over year.

George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, pointed to strong shipments in both China and the United States as one of the factors for the better than expected performance.

"PC demand appears be running much stronger than we expected back in June, especially in the U.S. and China," Shiffler said in a statement. "Mobile PC shipments have regained substantial momentum, especially in emerging markets, and the decline in desk-based PC shipments is slowing down. We think shipments are likely to be growing again in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared to the fourth quarter of 2008."

However, Gartner takes a conservative approach, with Shiffler saying that not even the release of Windows 7 on Oct. 22 will act as enough of a savior to stimulate year-over-year growth in the worldwide PC shipment market. "We don't expect the release of Windows 7 to significantly influence PC demand at year end," Shiffler said. "At best, Windows 7 may generate a modest bump in home demand and possibly some added demand among small businesses."

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According to the research firm, the demand in the large business, government and education markets won't manifest itself until late in the calendar year of 2010. Again, Gartner is urging vendors to exercise caution when considering inventory after the release of the new OS.

Notably, Michael Dell in August predicted a powerful product refresh cycle in the coming months being led by the release of Windows 7 and Intel's Nehalem processor.

"When I look ahead I see a powerful product cycle," Dell said during his company's second quarter earnings call. "With Nehalem from Intel, Windows 7 to replace many customers' XP machines -- a soon to be eight-year-old OS -- and Office 2010 will be a significant addition to clients' portfolio."

For Shiffler and Gartner, the release of the new OS from Microsoft may create an abundance of PC inventory that will not be accounted for by exuberance over the release of Windows 7.

"We're actually more concerned that vendors will overestimate the initial demand for Windows 7 and end up carrying excess inventories into 2010," Shiffler said.

Netbooks continued to be a bright spot in the second quarter of 2009, with Gartner expecting 25 million of the devices to ship in 2009, up from the IT firm's previous forecast of 21 million in May, to broach 37 million units in 2010. The increased forecast comes even as netbooks begin to face stiffer resistance from lower-priced notebooks.

As netbooks continue to proliferate in the market, the mini notebooks continue to put pressure on the price of traditional notebooks, forcing prices down. That downward price pressure, when paired with the expected number of PC shipments in 2010, has Gartner predicting a growth in units affected by flat spending.

"At least unit-wise, 2010 should be a considerably better year for the PC market," Shiffler said. "We now expect units to grow 12.6 percent next year as mobile PC growth continues to gain momentum and desk-based PC growth turns positive, thanks to revived replacement activity. However, we don't see the ongoing declines in PC average selling prices slowing down significantly next year, so spending is likely to be more or less flat in 2010."