This recession has recorded a number of significant firsts in the global economy and now the PC market is set to establish a milestone of its own - 2009 will see the sharpest sales downturn in the history of the industry.
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According to analysts at Gartner, 257 million units will be shipped this year, representing an 11.9% decline on 2008. The worst year to date was 2001 when the market declined 3.2% due to the bursting of the dot com bubble.
"The PC industry is facing extraordinary conditions as the global economy continues to weaken, users stretch PC lifetimes and PC suppliers grow increasingly cautious," said Gartner research director George Shiffler today.
Even the emerging markets are forecast to post their lowest growth rates on record said the analyst, with volumes down 13%. Previously, a 7.9% year-on-year decline in 2002 had marked the nadir of the PC market.
The mature and developing economies will be hit by the same business dynamics said Gartner.
"Slowing GDP growth will generally weaken demand and slow new penetration, lengthening PC lifetimes will reduce replacements, and supplier caution will keep inventories low until confidence in a recovery eventually firms," added Shiffler.
Replacement accounts for around 80% of the western PC markets and the loss of this type of customer will be felt most acutely.
As revealed by MicroScope last week, IDC painted a relatively bleak picture of the prospects for growth in the UK PC space, and only the netbook segment will help to drag the market into growth.
Gartner said notebook shipments are expected to peak at 155.6m units this year, a 9% decline on 2008. Including netbooks, the mobile market is predicted to rise 2.7%.
The desktop segment will decline 21.9%, the analyst added, with sales in the region of 101.4m units.
Despite the gloomy prognosis for PC sales, Gartner reckons the channel has learnt from the mistakes made in 2001; vendors have invested in supply chains meaning they have clearer visibility of demand.
In Q4 2008, PC players had reduced sales in to reflect this which would continue this year, "with the channel choosing to hold inventory at historically low levels," said Charles Smulder, Gartner managing vice president.