Once PC vendors let go of their great (unfounded) hope that high-cost Ultrabooks would deliver a huge windfall in sales, then they were able to focus more on the real demand for low-cost notebook PCs and Chromebooks in the marketplace.
Worldwide PC shipments totaled 78.5 million units in the third quarter of 2014 (3Q14) -- that's a year-on-year decline of -1.7 percent and a sizable improvement over the forecast of -4.1 percent, according to the latest market study by International Data Corporation (IDC).
Many of the trends from the second quarter remained relevant and contributed to the 3Q14 results. Commercial PC purchases played a key role in many markets, with the top three vendors -- Lenovo, HP, and Dell -- all showing solid year-on-year growth.
Conversely, fierce competition and a spiral toward tablet-like prices helped to further consolidate the market. Shipments of entry systems, including Chromebooks, continued to inject an important source of volume and sustained improved consumer demand in certain markets over recent quarters.
On a geographic basis, mature markets still drove the market, with North America and parts of Europe seeing significant improvements across segments.
Although Windows XP migrations has slowed, an improved business outlook, tablet saturation in some markets, and expanded offerings of competitive notebooks have factored in recent positive trends.
Emerging regions as a whole proved disappointing, although stronger than expected consumer demand in Asia-Pacific, spurred by the continued expansion of entry-level portable PCs and helping to redirect consumer attention back toward PCs, provided a silver lining.
"Although shipments did not decline as much as feared, these preliminary results still show that 3Q14 was one of the weaker calendar third quarters on record in terms of sequential growth. The third quarter has historically been driven by back-to-school sales and renewed business purchasing, which were weaker than normal this year," said Jay Chou, Senior Research Analyst at IDC.
Chou added, "The current growth of lower-priced systems, while encouraging in the short run, brings concern for the long term viability of vendors to adequately remain in the PC space."
PC shipment growth in the United States remained slightly faster than most other regions in the third quarter and overall the U.S. PC market came in right on forecast with 4.3 percent year-on-year growth.
Solid back-to-school sales, a strong performance from key vendors, the continued acceptance of Chromebooks, some commercial uptick from Windows XP to Windows 7 migration, and the slowdown in tablet sales are among the factors that helped the PC market to continue on its positive growth rate trajectory.
Moving forward, IDC expects a healthy holiday season, hence the U.S. PC market may maintain a positive growth rate. However, low demand for large commercial refreshes, combined with competition from 2-in-1 systems, may limit the growth potential.