Research firm Gartner says PC shipments were up about 1% during the 4th quarter of 2008. But revenue from computer sales was down by as much as 20%. According to Computer World, that’s because low cost netbooks are cannibalizing sales of more expensive computers. But I’m not sure that’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from these numbers.
I have no doubt that many people looked at the economy, looked at their pocketbooks, and looked at their computing needs and decided to spend $400 on a netbook instead of $800 to $2000 on a fuller featured laptop or desktop PC. But I think there are also probably lot of people who picked up a netbook instead of… nothing. I’m guessing that a lot of people weren’t deciding between a netbook and a larger computer this year, but deciding to buy a low cost mini-laptop just because they could. This is a new market segment that didn’t exist a few years ago and I think the idea of cheap subnotebooks appeals to a large group of individuals interested in buying a second or third computer.
It’s certainly possible that the reason PC revenue was down had something to do with the popularity of netbooks. But it’s also possible that the popularity of netbooks has something to do with the other reason PC revenus are down – consumer spending in general is down. I don’t think there’s any good way to know right now if PC makers would have made more money or less had netbooks not been available this year.