PC shipments see their steepest drop ever

Windows 10 didn't save the PC industry this holiday.

Windows 10 might be pretty popular, but it wasn't popular enough to rescue the PC business. IDC estimates that computer shipments actually fell 10.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, making it the steepest year-over-year drop in history. In fact, shipments were scarcely any better than they were in the summer, when sales are supposed to be slower. Gartner's figures are slightly better, although the 8.3 percent drop is nothing to write home about.

Many of the familiar brands led the pack, although their shipments weren't exactly heartening. Outside of Apple, most PC makers took a tumble this fall. US sales were kinder to ASUS and Lenovo, but not by a whole lot. And the whole-year figures are pretty sobering -- IDC believes shipments fell 10.4 percent in 2015, while Gartner has them down 8 percent.

Why the plummeting numbers? The analyst groups peg it on a combination of PC buyers' behavior and Microsoft's strategy. As we've seen in the past, PC upgrade cycles are getting longer -- that old PC is more likely to be good enough for another year, especially in a world where smartphones and tablets still reduce the need for a beefy computer. And IDC notes that the free Windows 10 upgrades may have hurt PC vendors. When you don't have to pay to get a new version of Windows, why not use the PC you already have?

Whatever the cause, PC makers don't have a lot to look forward to in 2016. They were banking on a slew of new Windows 10 PCs turning things around this fall, and that clearly wasn't enough. While there's a chance that a flood of clever new hardware (plus many aging systems finally needing upgrades) will help out this year, companies may have to accept that they're in for another rough ride.

[Top image credit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

IDC's worldwide PC shipment estimate for Q4 2015
Gartner's worldwide PC shipment estimate for Q4 2015