Post-PC news: China zooms past US in PC sales, netbooks on life support

iPad introduction (Netbook slide 001)

For US PC buyers accustom to receiving items from China, here’s a switch: new research indicates more computers are being shipped into China than America. After China became the largest PC market in terms of buyers, the country is now also the world’s top market when it comes to shipping.

According to IHS iSuppli, in 2012 69 million PCs were shipped into China, compared to 66 million units headed for the United States. Despite its size, China still has some catching-up to do with the rest of the world. For instance, while most countries have moved on from desktop computers, a full half of PCs shipped to China are desktops.

That’s just one of many intriguing differences in the world’s largest PC market…

Unlike much of the world, where just 36 percent of PCs are desktops (according to an NPD survey), China is evenly split between desktops and laptop PCs, per iSuppli data.


Although most images the Western world see of China involve bustling cities and crowded factories, much of the country’s more than 1 billion residents still live in rural areas.

IHS iSuppli (PC shipments China vs US)

IHS analyst Peter Lin notes:

The relatively large percentage of desktop PC shipments in China is due to huge demand in the country’s rural areas, which account for a major segment of the country’s 1.34 billion citizens.

Another difference in China’s PC demand versus the rest of the world: screen size. As devices grow in power and we have more open applications, larger displays have become a priority for laptops.

Indeed, only 30 percent of devices shipped worldwide have 14-inch screens. However, that figure is reversed in China, where 70 percent of notebooks purchased have a 14-inch display.

MacBook Air (left angled, iPhoto)

In what could hinder sales of either OS X or Windows operating software, less than half of PCs in China are sold with an operating system preinstalled. That compares to 90 percent everywhere else. Widespread piracy is the reason, making PCs cheaper to purchase in China.

While China’s PC market at first glance appears like something out of the 1990s, computer makers should not start shipping all their desktops or laptops with tiny screens just yet.

iPad mini (three-up, front, back, profile, black)

According to IHS, there is room for just three to four percent growth of computer shipments as the country quickly transforms into a mobile society. Although cheap Android handsets dominate sales in China, Apple is the hands-down winner in tablets. According to the research firm, the iPad maker controls an astounding 70 percent of tablet sales there.

Apple store holiday 2012 banner (MacBook Pro)

Tablet sales are also being blamed for the quick demise of netbooks, the last of which is expected to disappear from shelves by 2015. Netbook shipments will drop by 72 percent this year, according to another research note issued Monday by IHS iSuppli.

Introduced in 2007, netbook sales reached a zenith in 2010, selling 32.14 million devices in 2010. The same year, Apple introduced the iPad, creating a tablet market that essentially swallowed netbook demand.

Steve Jobs famously dissed netbooks at the original iPad introduction, calling them “just cheap notebooks” that compromise the experience with “low-quality displays and clunky old PC software.”