HP challenges claims of Lenovo's captaincy of the slowly sinking HMS PC Shipments
Quick, name a stat that gets trumpeted at least once a quarter but doesn't really matter much. If you guessed "worldwide PC vendor unit shipment estimates," you're right on the money. Every quarter, and sometimes more frequently, firms like Gartner and IDC publish their estimates for how many PC units the world's biggest manufacturers managed to ship in the preceding three months, and then ranks them by those numbers. Since 2006, HP has sat pretty atop the mountain, shipping more PCs than any other company on the planet.
HP's PC sales have been shrinking for the past few years, though HP's not alone in that - the downward trendline has hit almost every PC manufacturer out there as PC shipments as a total have declined by over eight percent in just the past year. A few companies have weathered the decline with increased shipments and thus marketshare, including Apple, Asus, and Lenovo. It's the latter company that's drawn the ire of HP, thanks to Gartner's numbers.
The decline in HP's PC sales has put their ranking in peril, with HP's shipments down by over sixteen percent, while Lenovo's grown by around ten percent. Differences in methodology between the various analyst groups led to an awkward situation this week, with Gartner declaring Lenovo the new king of the mountain by a mere 217,000 units shipped (each having shipped over 13.5 million PCs), while IDC puts HP ahead by a slimmer 122,000 shipments. HP contends that IDC's numbers are more accurate, as they include workstation shipments. Indeed, IDC's numbers are higher than Gartner's for all of the top five (Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo), reflecting the inclusion of workstation machines.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind. Whether or not HP's the top dog or not for the third quarter of 2012, it doesn't change that both Gartner and IDC clocked HP's decline in shipments from the same quarter last year at a staggering 16.4%. That's simply not a good number, and the biggest decline among the top five. It's also important to keep in mind that these numbers are shipment estimates, not sales. While sales generally do reflect shipments closely, most of the computers sold by these companies (excepting Dell) are still sold through traditional retail outlets. The shipments number is overwhelmingly composed of computers sent to resellers, not customers.
HP's rate of decline over the past year is marked at 16.4%, roughly double that of the PC industry's total decline of 8.3% (Gartner) or 8.6% (IDC). While the continued sluggishness in the global economy isn't helping anybody's numbers, it's tablet devices like the Apple iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab line that have been responsible for most of the damage to the PC market's numbers. Seeing that coming, that's why HP bought Palm in the first place (even if that didn't go exactly as planned), and it's why they're investing heavily in tablets and mobility today.
But this crowing over who is the captain of the quarter of the HMS PC Shipments is silly. It doesn't matter who is in charge when it's a ship that slowly taking on water as it lists in the wake of the USS Tablets.