The PC's 5-year slump might be coming to an end

It depends on what you consider a PC.

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For the past several years, the PC market has largely told the same dismal story: shipments are down, mobile is taking over the world, and there's no relief in sight. However, there's a glimmer of hope... depending on who you ask, anyway. IDC estimates that PC shipments increased by 0.6 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2017, marking the first such growth in 5 years. Reportedly, that's due to both better-than-expected shipments in multiple regions as well as strong commercial Chromebook sales in the US (think schools and businesses). It's cheerful news for the industry if accurate -- with that said, Gartner's researchers might just temper your enthusiasm.

They've determined that computer shipments for the period actually dropped by 2.4 percent, continuing that long losing streak. Why the discrepancy? It all comes down to methodology. While IDC counts Chromebooks and excludes tablet PCs (including Surface-style detachables), the opposite is true at Gartner. Neither company is giving you a complete picture of the computing landscape, so you can't say for sure that the PC market is out of the doldrums. Really, this is an extension of the not-quite-so-terrible results you saw last year. The decline may be tapering off, but it isn't necessarily over.

If there's something IDC and Gartner have in common, it's their not-so-rosy outlook. Phones and tablets continue to put the squeeze on PC sales by giving you reasons to delay upgrades, while parts shortages (such as memory and solid-state drives) are making it hard to meet even that reduced demand. Assuming there's any kind of recovery taking place, it's going to be slow and uncertain.

IDC's PC market share estimates for Q1 2017
Gartner's PC market share estimates for Q1 2017