Worldwide PC shipments declined by 8 percent in the third quarter, in advance of the Windows 8 release, according to numbers released by the IDC and Gartner research firms this week. Looked at in the most favorable light for Microsoft, the dip suggests that the industry, businesses and home computer users are waiting eagerly for the launch of Windows 8, clearing out inventory and holding off on new purchases until the new operating system debuts.

Either that or they’re already turning their attention — and budgets — to iPads and other alternatives.

“PCs are going through a severe slump,” said IDC analyst Jay Chou in a news releasing announcing the numbers. “The industry had already weathered a rough second quarter, and now the third quarter was even worse. A weak global economy as well as questions about PC market saturation and delayed replacement cycles are certainly a factor, but the hard question of what is the ‘it’ product for PCs remain unanswered. While ultrabook prices have come down a little, there are still some significant challenges that will greet Windows 8 in the coming quarter.”

The chart above shows the trends over the past two years, with traditional PCs, primarily running Windows, still shipping far more units than tablets. However, the PC shipment trends are flat overall, in contrast with the steady growth in shipments of iPads and other tablets.

This, in a nutshell, is why Microsoft is trying to expand the reach of Windows 8 with its new tablet-friendly interface, willing to take the risk of alienating some traditional computer users in the process. The Windows 8 launch on Oct. 26 represents a new era for Microsoft, in a variety of ways.

In the meantime, these shipment trends don’t bode well for Microsoft’s earnings report a week from today.

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  • The Other Guest

    Wow no drivel from Guest yet that everything is hunky dory with Microsoft and that the decline of the PC market is really just an opportunity for Microsoft who has nothing to loose (except for a few billion, ha!) and only to gain (like there’s no Android, Kindle, iPad/iPhone, ha!). Did Guest get the day off? Did Guest take a sick day? Or did Guest perhaps take a personal day to go shopping for, gasp, the new iPhone 5? I guess(t) we will never know.

    • guest

      Are you three years old?

    • GuestPlayedByGuest

      Sorry, the role of Guest today will be played by Guest.

      Kudos to Microsoft and all our PC ecosystem partners. This shows that our transition from a PC on every desk, through three screens and a cloud to our current devices and services company is the right thing for the super exciting 21st century.

  • Allen

    So basically, in the “post-PC” era there’s still a butt load of PC’s being sold. I guess that’s why you’d call it the “post-PC” era, since this chart seems to indicate you’ve never been able to sell your Macs.

  • Guest

    Very interesting! Looks like PCs are continuing to sell; people are buying other devices in ADDITION. This is great news for our consumer economy and the companies who prosper in it.

  • Gjokkel

    This chart demonstrates how easy is to put misinformation into a scientific-looking representation of data.
    It looks like that the “Kindle Fire Launch” caused a serios decline in tablet sales. Unfortunately it was just a coincidence. It is simply the difference between Q4 and Q1 sales volume, not more.

    • Todd Bishop

      Actually, if you look at the trend line, the chart shows that the Kindle Fire caused a spike in sales in Q411. You’re right that the subsequent decline was seasonal.

  • guest

    So when PC sales declined before the iPad existed, was that the pre-Post-PC era? Just want to make sure I get the new lingo straight.

  • adnokr5

    Is it possible we are not seeing growth in PC industry because everyone all over the world already has one. It is a mature market. On the other hand, the whole developing world and a good chunk of developed world is still on feature phones and so on. A lot of people are switching from feature phones to smartphones causing rapid growth in that market. As far as tablets are concerned, they are not causing a fall in PC sales. How many people do you know have totally replaced their PC/MAC with a tablet? I for one don’t know any. Tablets in their current form are merely sources of media consumption not creation. They don’t get anything done. Besides they don’t do anything a smartphone can’t besides offering a larger screen. We haven’t yet entered the Post-PC era. Win 8 is an attempt in that direction and we’ll know if post-PC era is really a thing in less than an year.

  • caywen

    Windows 8 is about Microsoft bolstering the PC market while hedging on tablets. If and when tablets start to really encroach on the PC market, Microsoft hope to have a sizable chunk of that. They can then declare that all their tablets are actually PC’s, and cause analysts to spike PC shipment numbers.

    • guest

      Windows 8 is about Microsoft realizing that it once again underestimated Apple and lost a decade head start virtually overnight. Just as it did previously in smartphones, only this time the threat is existential not peripheral. It also reflects MS’s recognition that in a few short years tablet unit sales will exceed those of traditional PCs, as MS predicted back when they initially started touting them in the early 2k’s, and they’re now three years late to the party. W8 isn’t about hedging on tablets. Tablets (and other so-called “Post-PC” devices) are its focus; what it does for PCs is incidental. If it fails to gain significant share on those devices, management realize the company’s future will be impacted severely.

  • curious

    Where’s the Q3 data for tablets?

  • Pepe

    Looks like while tablet sales increased since 2010, the tablet sales didn’t cause a decrease in PC sales. Indeed, according to the chart, during the time period covered by the chart, the low point of PC sales was when the iPad launched. PC sales have been HIGHER ever since. If we’re to believe that tablets are killing PCs, then PC sales should be down ever since the iPad launch (and be on a continued downward trajectory), but they are instead up every since the iPad launch. Which means that this article doesn’t prove what it sets out to prove, quite the contrary.
    I don’t think tablets and PCs are even in the same market (and this chart backs me up, as the increase in tablet sales only added to the total number of tablets and PCs sold, which means tablets and PCs aren’t in a zero-sum market). But if one wants to claim that PCs and tablets are indeed in the same market, then know that each quarter where PCs outsell tablets increases the margin in total PCs sold over tablets. For example, last quarter, while tablets increased their sales volume, PCs still outsold tablets by 60 million or so. That’s 60 million more units that tablets FELL BEHIND, for the quarter, in other words. Now, I don’t think it matters, since I don’t think the devices compete with each other in a zero-sum market. But Todd Bishop certainly does think they compete against each other in such a market, yet doesn’t acknowledge that if that’s the case, then tablets FELL FURTHER BEHIND by another 60 million last quarter.
    I do expect tablets to outsell PCs and Macs eventually, but *replacing* PCs and Macs is another matter. Phones outsell PCs and Macs already (as to wrist watches, for that matter), but do they *replace* PCs and Macs? They have some overlapping functionality, but increase in sales of smart phones, even to the point where phones outsell PCs and Macs hasn’t caused the sales of PCs and Macs to go down.
    I’m surprised by only one thing in this chart, and that is the flatlined Mac sales. I was under the impression that Mac sales were skyrocketting. That’s the impression we’re given in the tech media. Turns out not to be the case.

  • John S. Wilson

    The chart also doesn’t take into consideration that two of the largest PC makers, HP and Dell, aren’t really making money selling PCs. The average selling price of a PC is less than that of an iPad. So while I get this comparison is to detail sales difference, it’s important to note that PCs are no longer delivering the profits they used to, the industry has matured, and companies are forced to look elsewhere for growth.

    Also it took Apple 3 years to sell 100 million iPads (definitely commendable), yet they’re projected to sell that many in 2013 alone. Is anyone projecting that level of growth at any PC maker next year?

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