Worldwide PC shipments plunged by a third in the first quarter

Apple suffered more than most.

REUTERS/Peter DaSilva

The PC market has been reeling for months, but it just got worse. Both Canalys and IDC estimate that worldwide computer shipments dropped between 29 to 33 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2023. That's a steeper drop than during the holidays, and this time none of the major brands escaped the worst of the downturn. Second-place HP escaped relatively lightly with a 24 percent drop in shipments, while fourth-place Apple felt the most pain with a drop of more than 40 percent. ASUS, Dell and Lenovo all took a roughly 30 percent hit.

The explanations may sound familiar. Customers are reluctant to buy PCs in a turbulent economy where inflation is running wild, and the pandemic-era boom in remote work is still winding down. People either can't afford new machines or already have ones that are good enough. There's no comment on why Apple struggled more than its peers, but it generally targets the high-end market and is more vulnerable to poor economic conditions. TechCrunch also notes that Apple's transition to in-house chips helped it avoid the tough times that Windows vendors faced in recent years, but that the honeymoon period may be over.

Analysts are optimistic. Canalys believes this is the worst drop the PC market will see in 2023, while both research groups expect to see recovery as soon as the second half of 2023. Old computers will be due for upgrades, including Chromebooks at schools, while businesses will update to Windows 11 systems. IDC also sees the slowdown as giving manufacturers a chance to move some production outside of China.

There's still a note of caution. IDC warns that the PC industry could be in for a "slog" if recessions continue into 2024. Although the sharpest declines may be over, it could take a long time for the market to bounce back. Don't be surprised if brands play it relatively safe with computers they know are likely to sell, rather than experimenting with unusual designs.