Problems in the personal computer business have increased the likelihood that 2009 will bring the first decline in PC sales since 2001, according to industry analysts.
Evidence has been accumulating since the start of the year that the deterioration has reached unexpected parts of the market, with trouble appearing even in some emerging markets, which had previously been seen as the main source of growth.
“We’re definitely more pessimistic,” said Loren Loverde at IDC, the technology research group.
He said IDC’s latest official forecast, for 4 per cent growth in the number of PCs sold this year, was unlikely to hold: “As things sink in, it could easily be in negative territory.”
Weak earnings reported last week by Lenovo, the world’s fourth-biggest PC maker, showed that corporate buyers in particular have been cutting back.
That, and softening sales in emerging countries, suggests that the pain has spread beyond consumers in the developed world, who had been expected to be the main source of industry weakness.
Last month Microsoft warned that the first half of this year at least could see even weaker conditions than the final quarter of last year, when an expected 10-12 per cent increase in the PC market completely evaporated.
Other one-off factors have complicated the outlook and could bring more disruption for the traditional PC industry, analysts say. Microsoft appears to be getting ready for an early launch of the next version of the Windows operating system. The Windows 7 operating system, which some in the industry now expect as early as July, may attract new interest from corporate customers who have avoided buying PCs based on the current Vista system.
The fact that the new Windows has been designed to work on less powerful machines could disrupt the normal pattern of rising demand for ever-more powerful computers, warned David Smith, an analyst at Gartner.
A mixed blessing for PC makers could come from netbooks, the new generation of small, low-priced laptops.
They accounted for one in eight of the laptops sold in the final quarter of last year, with sales expected to double in 2009.
However, the low-priced machines could eat into sales of traditional laptops, hitting PC makers’ profits, said Mr Loverde.