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PC shipments saw their largest decline ever last quarter

The economy and the pandemic recovery delivered a one-two punch.

Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It's no secret that the conditions were ripe for a steep drop in PC demand this holiday, but now it's clear just how bad that plunge really was. Gartner and IDC estimate PC shipments fell by more than 28 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2022. That's the steepest quarterly decline Gartner has ever recorded — no mean feat when it began tracking the computer market in the 1990s. Both analyst groups also saw yearly shipments fall by more than 16 percent in 2022 compared to the year earlier.

Some manufacturers suffered more of a blow than others. The top three brands, Lenovo, HP and Dell, saw their shipments tumble between 29 percent and 37 percent in late 2022 compared to a year earlier. Acer took a staggering 41 percent hit, according to Gartner. Fourth-place Apple took a relatively light blow, although that still meant its shipments dropped by as much as 10 percent.

Gartner and IDC share the same explanation. PC sales soared in 2021 as people continued to work from home during the pandemic, but that interest tanked as people gradually returned to the office. Moreover, a worsening global economy left people with less money to spend on upgrades. Would-be customers either had a recent PC or had trouble affording a new one, to put it simply.

IDC is quick to put the seeming freefall into context. While the quarterly and yearly drops were sharp, shipments in 2022 were still "well above" pre-pandemic figures, according to researchers. While demand still looks grim, the market was still stronger than before.

Just don't expect the PC's heyday to return for a while. Neither analyst group expects the market to recover in earnest until 2024, and IDC only sees "pockets of opportunity" in 2023. Whether they like it or not, PC makers may have to brace themselves and hope that a combination of new designs and price cuts will sustain interest for the next year.