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.

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4 replies on “Gartner: PC sales revenue is down, but netbook sales are up”

  1. Have a Mac Book Pro for little over a year as my main PC, Happy as a clam, Till this little and cute EEE PC came along. Got a 900, was ok, but too small of keyboard, now it is a file/ftp/torrent/etc server. Replaced it with a 1002HA. This has a good balance of weight/power. If it was not for the NetBook fad, I would still only have the Mac.

  2. I’m with Linc – I’ve wanted a micro for years – I even bought a HP Jornada with folding keyboard. But as soon as the Asus 701 came out, BAM! Sale. And now I’ve upgraded. I have a iMac desktop, didn’t want a laptop but a netbook YES.

  3. I know for myself the weight and ease of use factor was what brought me to Netbooks, and the price made ‘my wish’ to have a small computer possible. I wanted a small computer three years ago but most micros cost over $2,000.

    I think it is an Inconvenient Truth for some manufactures that what they wanted to cost a premium to get (i.e. portability was) circumvented by some small upstart manufactures. Now they can’t easily charge $2,000 for ultra-portables and it irks them, so they keep pretending Netbooks are just cheap that the economy is to blame when their laptops and desktops don’t sell.

    I really wonder what Sony was originally planning to sell the Vaio P for? The Vaio TT which weights about 2.87 lbs costs $4,000+ ..oh and the battery catches fire. Sony was likely planning for the Vaio P to cost twice as much at retail, but that can’t work anymore…on fire or not.

    I have no doubt price is a factor, but I think people honestly want a change in size and features on their computers today.

  4. I don’t quite agree with your conclusions. I think that Netbooks are a disruptive event in the computer business.

    I thnk desktop computers are more or less dead now. They were dying anyway but the availability of a netbook as a desktop CPU replacement is the final nail in the coffin.

    As far as laptops go, I think people wil not pay two to five times the price for a little more scren real estate.

    I know that there are other features and benefits to laptops and to desktops that netbooks don’t have, but that’s not the way most people are going to see things. They will buy the $400.00 Netbook, and demand that it get faster and more feature filled without the price going up.

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