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China passes U.S. in quarterly PC sales, survey finds

Although holiday season buying is likely to keep U.S. as the largest consumer, China is expected to lead the world next year, as Americans abandon desktops and laptops for tablets, analysts say.

August 24, 2011|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times
  • Teenagers surround a computer at the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference in Shanghai. Next year, China should soar past the U.S. in PC sales, analysts say.
Teenagers surround a computer at the China Digital Entertainment Expo… (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg )

China passed the United States in the second quarter as the largest market for personal computers, according to new data from research group International Data Corp.

The shift marks the first time that China has passed the U.S. as the top consumer of PCs.

PC shipments in China reached 18.5 million units, worth about $11.9 billion in the second quarter, compared with shipments in the U.S. of 17.7 million units, worth about $11.7 billion, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker study.

China accounted for 22% of the world's PC market in terms of shipments, while the U.S. held a 21% share, the report said.

The data show how U.S. personal computer sales have slowed dramatically as sales of tablet computers and smartphones have risen. PC sales took their biggest drop in the U.S. in nearly a decade with an 11% decline in the first quarter from the year-earlier quarter.

Although China passed the U.S. in the second quarter, IDC said it expected the U.S. to remain on top for the full year. It forecast annual domestic sales of 73.5 million, compared with 72.4 million in China.

"Holiday season buying in the U.S. will likely keep it ahead of China in the fourth quarter, especially as China's market contracts after its third-quarter summer promotions," the company said.

Next year, however, China should soar past the U.S. in PC sales. IDC expects the Asian economic powerhouse to ship 85.2 million units, compared to 76.6 million units in the U.S.

That forecast reinforces industry expectations that sales of tablets will eclipse those of laptops in the U.S. as soon as next year and that they eventually will overtake total laptop and desktop PC sales.

Last week, Hewlett-Packard Co., the world's top PC maker, said it was considering spinning off or otherwise divesting its PC business and discontinuing its tablet and smartphone operations as it revamps its corporate mission to focus on business-related software.

"China's lead in the PC market is a huge shift that reflects the rising fortunes of emerging markets as well as the relative stagnation of more mature regions," said Loren Loverde, IDC's program vice president for PC research.

"While the immediate economic circumstances in the U.S. and other markets had a significant impact on the timing of China's move to the lead, they have not changed the trend, but accelerated it," he said.

But China still faces risks, including inflation and possible effects from the unstable economic conditions globally, said Kitty Fok, IDC's vice president for greater China research.

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