The numbers don’t lie. Both research companies noted a small uptick in PC sales. Yet it isn’t time to break out the champagne.
First, the uptick isn’t that great. IDC clocks fourth quarter growth at 4.8 percent year-on-year. Gartner puts the number at 2.3 percent.
These are by no means strong numbers. Gartner’s growth figure for the calendar year is only 0.6 percent. They are best thought of as ‘less awful’.
We have, after all, seen seven straight years of falling PC sales. In 2011 Gartner recorded total sales of 352 million units. The number for 2019 was 262 million. That’s a 25 percent drop in eight year. Last year’s growth is small in comparison.
IDC’s numbers of the same period fell from 371 to 266 million. That’s a fall of 28 percent.
There’s another reason the reported increase in sales is less reason to celebrate.
Many of the extra sales in late 2019 come because Microsoft’s support for Windows 7 is about to end. Many users need to upgrade their hardware to move to Windows 10. Sure, it isn’t always essential, but upgrading to new hardware simplifies the change.
There was also a shortage of Intel processor chips late last year. Deliveries have only recently recovered.
In other words, special factors account for all the increase in PC sales. And let’s face it, low single digit growth is unimpressive at the best of times.
Almost all the increase in sales is for business models. Interest in consumer PCs continues to decline.
Another trend the sales reports have picked up is the increased dominance of the top PC brands. Lenovo, HP and Dell all added market share at the expense of other brands. Between them they account for around two-thirds of all units sold.
Meanwhile Apple’s unit sales headed in the opposite direction. After years of picking up market share at the expense of the Windows PC brands, Mac sales fell a little. Apple’s share of the total market has fallen from 7.9 percent to 7.5 percent.
At the time of writing there wasn’t a local price for the Audio version. In the US HP adds US$50 to the non-Audio Dock price. So it’s likely the New Zealand version will sell for around NZ$500.
Docks, often called docking stations, seem old school in 2018. They are enjoying a revival at the moment. In part this is because computer makers like HP now standardise on USB-C connectors. They also put fewer ports on modern laptops.
Today’s laptops are often ultra-thin. This leaves less room for ports. Some ports are deeper than the edge of many modern laptops. Think of an Ethernet port to get the picture.
This means offloading the connectivity options to a separate device makes sense.
Most people who work from home or in a small business will use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connections.
Big company IT departments sometimes prefer Ethernet. It means better connection speeds in busy workplaces. It also can be mean trouble for tech support.
Docks are often the best way to connect a USB-C laptop to Ethernet. Although you could choose a dongle instead. Docks also allow users to add large screen displays, keyboards and mice. Most docks also act as rechargers.
HP’s Thunderbolt Dock comes with a hard-wired USB-C cable that connects to a laptop. The cable is about 700 mm long, which is enough if you keep the Dock on your desktop. On the right-hand side is a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack and a Kensington lock connector.
There are a total of eight more sockets on the rear. One connects the Dock to a power brick. Another is an Ethernet port. There are two more USB-C ports, a Thunderbolt port, a power out port, there are also two Display Ports and a VGA port.
HP has chosen a big, heavy power brick. That’s necessary to supply enough power, but it adds a lot of heft to the Dock set-up. If you need to, with say two large screens, it can draw down 100W of power.
I thought I’d prefer to have the power unit built into the Dock. That would add weight and bulk. Another advantage of separate units is the desktop Dock doesn’t get hot.
You wouldn’t want to lug this from place to place, but then you don’t have to. That’s the point of a Dock.
The HP Notebook recognised the Dock immediately. When connected, it installed the right drivers and rebooted.
These let you use the speaker for conference calls. It would work fine if you had one of these in a meeting room for a group of people to share.
There’s haptic feedback to let your fingers know when you use the buttons.
I managed to test the speaker with a Skype call. When it connected I had to crank the volume down, it was too loud for my quiet, small home office.
You will need the extra volume in a busy open plan office. The people at the other end could tell I was on a speakerphone. From my point of view, the call sounded clearer than usual and much better than listening on a handset.
HP Thunderbolt Dock 120W G2 verdict
HP’s marketing material implies the company optimised the Thunderbolt Dock’s Bang and Olufsen speakers for phone calls. Despite this they do a fine job playing music and handling other audio. There’s plenty of top and bottom to the sound. It helps that the Dock is solid, so no vibrations.
It’s been a while since I last used a docking station. The fact that it was for my IBM ThinkPad and connected it to a CRT screen tells you how long ago. The newer HP design is far easier to use. It is more versatile and offers a lot more functionality for half the price of my earlier dock.
If you make a lot of conference calls and work hands free, it’s a must have. If you want to use a big screen, Ethernet or a full size keyboard it is well worth considering.
HP’s EliteBook x360 1030 G3 is a premium business convertible laptop. It’s the kind of upmarket laptop a big company employer might hand you if they think you need portability and flexibility.
You might choose it yourself. It is a solid, no-nonsense choice with all the features a business user needs, although a touch expensive by 2018 standards.
While you can get more grunt and graphics for the same money or less elsewhere, you won’t get them in such a compact package and with such a quality feel. HP added security features to the business laptop that, depending on how you work, could tip the balance.
At first glance the Elitebook x360 looks like a tiny conventional clamshell laptop. It opens to show a full size keyboard and screen.
The Elitebook x360 is a convertible. Its 360 hinge means you can open it right up, then fold the screen under the keyboard to give you a tablet. It can also work in what HP calls tent mode to watch video or propped up on a flat service to give personal presentations.
HP says you can get “up to” 18 hours of battery life. Computer maker battery life estimates are often exaggerated. Even so, you can expect to keep going for the longest of work days.
In testing I found you can get almost nine hours of constant use from the battery. If you take breaks away from the screen it should more than last all day.
As you’d expect the Elitebook x360 is small and light. Yet, at 1.25 kg it feels a shade heavier than it looks.
Some of this heft is down to the build quality. The Elitebook x360 has a solid milled aluminium case. This computer feels like it is ready for you to carry it from place to place. I’d be a little concerned working on an industrial site, but it is more than robust enough for everyday business use.
It’s not the best-looking laptop, at least to my eyes, but it is far from embarassing.
HP describes it as the world’s smallest business convertible. That’s a specific claim and, to my knowledge it is true. At only 15mm deep, the Elitebook x360 is a fraction thicker than the MacBook, but Apple’s laptop doesn’t covert into a tablet.
The screen measures 13.3 inches across the diagonal. Resolution on the review model is 1920 by 1080 pixels, there is also a 3840 by 2160 version.
The computer comes with Sureview: an integrated privacy filter. When you hit the F2 button, the viewing angles of the screen at reduced so that anyone looking at the display from over your shoulder or the next airplane seat can’t read anything.
HP says this kicks in at 40 degrees. That’s hard to check. Yet it works as promised. Sureview isn’t for everyone, but is ideal if you work on private reports in busy places.
On the downside, Sureview dims the screen and makes it harder to read. It makes colours duller. I struggled a little with it trying to read the display head-on if text was in anything other than black on white.
You wouldn’t want to have Sureview switched on all the time.
HP has gone for a decent quality backlit keyboard. I found it easy to type. There’s little flexing. Otherwise it’s not remarkable one way or the other. If anything it reminds me of the MacBook Air.
The up and down directional keys look squashed. In practice they are not a problem. The touchpad is a good size and responsive. It works better than I’ve seen on some rival Windows computers.
Beneath the keyboard is a tiny fingerprint reader for another layer of security. You can use this to log-in, but the Elitebook x360 does a great job with Windows Hello. Its face recognition was close to flawless during testing.
HP has simplified the ports on the 2018 Elitebook x360. You now get two USB-C ports. One of these is used for charging. There is also an HDMI and a Thunderbolt 3 port. There’s no Ethernet port, although that would make the case thicker.
HP EliteBook x360 verdict
Prices start at around NZ$2,800. That money gets you a model with an Intel Core i5 processor along with a graphics processor, 8 GB ram and 256 GB storage. That lessw expensive models support 1920×1080 graphics.
Pay around NZ$4000 and you’ll get a version with 16 GB ram, 512 GB storage and 3840×2160 pixel resolution. According to the HP web site, these prices include a three year warranty for all models. That alone is worth hundreds of dollars.
The HP EliteBook x360 is a good choice, but you can get a better deal.
If you’re not interested in the security features, then you might do better looking elsewhere. There are less expensive models in the HP range that almost match the x360 on features. You can expect more raw power, better graphics and longer battery life when spending the same amount money. But if you’d prefer to stay safe from prying eyes, the EliteBook x360 1030 G3 makes a lot of sense.
~650,000 machines still ship every day, but that’s the lowest total since 2007
Source: PC sales still slumping, but more slowly than feared • The Register
Simon Sharwood writes:
Both analyst firms suggest that rising component prices have led to rising PC prices which has led to falling enthusiasm from buyers, especially consumers. DRAM, LCD panels and solid state disks prices all share some of the blame for the rise, as all are in short supply.
This is nonsense: not Sharwood’s reporting, what the analysts say. They are clutching at straws. Rising PC prices are not the issue, prices have only ticked up a smidgen. That is not enough to affect sales if there is an underlying demand.
Two points stand out from the latest PC sales figures.
First, HP moved ahead of Lenovo. Sharwood quotes a Gartner analyst talking about Lenovo pulling back to focus on margins.
That’s a plausible explanation, but I think there’s more to it.
HP has been on a roll since the business split from HP Enterprise. Hardware quality is better than in the past and the designs are more interesting. While it would overdoing it to use a word like excitement, HP has momentum.Some good products too.
Second, Apple has moved to fourth place. Apple’s year-on-year sales are flat, in a falling market that means the company’s market share has climbed. It’s not much of a climb, about 0.3 percent, but that’s enough to move Apple past slumping Asus.
You can slide a wafer-thin device between Apple and Microsoft’s New Zealand slate market share.
IDC New Zealand reports Apple shipped less than 1000 more detachable or slate devices than Microsoft in 2016.
The total market for the year was 80,000 units. Apple had a 32 percent market share, which is around 25,600 units. Microsoft was at 31 percent, a shade under 25,000 units.
Detachable is a curious market to measure. IDC defines it:
“A slate tablet is a portable, battery-powered computing device with a screen size 7-inches to 16-inches.
In addition to the attributes of a slate tablet, a detachable tablet is designed to function as a stand-alone slate tablet as well as a clamshell device through the addition of a detachable keyboard designed specifically for the device.”
IDC New Zealand mobile device market analyst Chayse Gorton says this includes Apple’s 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch iPad Pros. Yet both sell without detachable keyboards and not every buyer uses them with one1.
The category includes Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Book, HP Envy and others.
Slate-tablet distinction blurry
It is distinct from traditional laptops. The distinction between slates and tablets like non-Pro iPads is blurry.
Either way, Apple topped the market in 2016. Microsoft is second. It had been number one for the years 2013, 2014 and 2015. Microsoft’s shipments climbed three percent from 2015 to 2016.
It was a bonza year for detachable sales. Shipments2 increased from 55,000 in 2015 to 80,000 — a year-on-year increase of 45 percent.
The runners-up are, in order: HP on nine percent; Samsung on seven percent and Acer also with seven percent. Other brands were less than 15 percent.
Gorton says Microsoft faces competition from a range of models running Windows. Its share of the Windows detachable market fell from 58 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2016.
“Competing windows detachables often have similar specifications to Microsoft detachables, but are frequently sold at a lower price. Given New Zealand is a price conscious nation, a lower price, even by small a margin can be enough to entice a consumer to purchase from a competing vendor”, he says.
Gorton says Microsoft sharpened its premium market position introducing high-end models and halting low-end models. It introduced the Surface Book early in the year and dropped the Surface 3 from its line-up.
IDC expects detachable shipments to grow between 25 and 30 percent in 2017. From the market will start to flatten off.
You could argue the iPad Pro and Windows devices are not direct head-to-head rivals. It’s possible there are buyers who would weigh up an iPad Pro against these Windows devices. Yet for the most part the two groups inhabit parallel universes. ↩︎
Shipments is a normal term for this kind of survey. Most of the time it means how many devices vendors sent from warehouses to retailers. It gets tricky with detachables because Apple and Microsoft sell direct. ↩︎