Microsoft may have cancelled the PC sales apocalypse

Microsoft surface bookScreenshotMicrosoft’s Panos Panay introduces the Microsoft Surface Book.

It’s no secret that PC sales are shrinking, as everybody and their mothers turn to smartphones and tablets to get things done.

That has led to miserable, if expected, holiday sales for PC, with worldwide PC shipments down 10.6% year-over-year in the final three months of 2015, research firm IDC announced on Tuesday. PC sales for all of 2015 came in at the lowest level since 2008, IDC said in a press release.

By the second half of 2016, IDC says, things should stabilise a little bit in the PC market: Enterprises and consumers alike will turn to Microsoft Windows 10, the latest version of the PC operating system, as their existing systems run into security and performance issues.

But the biggest takeaway from the IDC report, by my reckoning, is the idea that laptops with detachable tablet portions — like the Microsoft Surface Book — might actually be in place to stall out the shrinking PC market, which it predicts will shrink another 3.1% next year.

If you factor in these so-called detachables, IDC says, that negative 3.1% turns into a positive 1% to 2% of growth. It’s not exactly a barnburner of a statistic, but any positive growth is better than the alternative.

When Microsoft first announced the Surface Book laptop, the company said the whole idea was to give its PC manufacturer partners a little shove in the direction of the detachable market. And while that market is small today, IDC acknowledges, it’s growing quickly, spurred by the massive interest in the Surface Book and the copycat devices it’s inspired.

Worth noting: To analysts like IDC, “detachable tablets,” like the Surface Book, are distinct from tablets designed for optional keyboards, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or Apple iPad Pro. So this doesn’t figure in the sales of either of those tablets, or the similar devices from outside manufacturers.

Back in reality, the top PC manufacturer for 2015 was Lenovo, with 20% of the market, by IDC’s reckoning. It was followed by HP, Dell, Asus, and Apple, all of whom outperformed the market.

Apple, notably, performed far better than the overall market, and increased its slice of the pie to 7.5% in 2015 (up from 6.3% market share in 2014), which is a big deal considering the hefty pricetag on most of its machines.

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