The long-suffering personal computer market may be finally recovering from the damage inflicted by the shift to smartphones and tablets, according to a report released this week.
PC shipments in the first quarter rose by about 1 percent from last year, based on calculations from the research firm International Data Corp. The modest gain marks the first quarterly increase in five years, a stretch that has seen people increasingly turn to mobile devices for their computing needs.
Another breakdown released by Gartner Inc. painted a gloomier picture. That research firm estimated PC shipments fell by 2 percent in the first quarter. The rival reports measure the market in different ways, accounting for their contrasting conclusions.
Both IDC and Gartner concurred on this point: About the only signs of life are in the corporate market, where PCs remain an essential tool. Businesses have recently been replacing larger numbers of outdated machines.
"Winners in the business segment will ultimately be the survivors in this shrinking market," predicted Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa.
As has been the case for the past few years, HP Inc. and China's Lenovo remain the world's two largest PC makers. Each company holds about 20 percent of the market, according to both IDC and Gartner.
Consumers, though, remain reluctant to spend more money on new desktop or laptop computers when smartphones have become an additional appendage, giving people access to email, map, search engines and social networks wherever they are.
Smartphone proliferation is the main reason PC sales are unlikely to ever return to pre-slump levels. For instance, IDC's more upbeat analysis of the market pegged worldwide PC shipments at 60 million during the first quarter — about 30 percent below the 85 million shipped in the same period in 2011 before the industry downturn took hold.
Now, even tablets are losing their luster as consumers hold on to those devices for longer as well. Even Apple's iPad, the market leader, is mired in a three-year sales slump. Although smartphone demand also is easing, sales of those devices remain on the upswing.