China's unique PC buying trends revealed in survey

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China took the title of world’s largest market for PCs in 2012, and a survey by IHS iSuppli revealed that computer buyers in the country had unique preferences compared to counterparts worldwide.

The research firm said that last year a majority of PCs in China shipped without an operating system pre-installed, and a large chunk of laptops had a 14-inch screen. Desktops remained well and alive in China, with shipments equalling laptops in 2012.

Last year, PC shipments to China totaled about 69 million units, making it the world’s largest end-market for laptops and desktops. China topped the U.S., which was the top PC market as recently as 2011 and where shipments totaled 66 million last year.

The new numbers were a revision from iSuppli’s projections in January of PC shipments in China totaling 79.9 million in 2012. Shipments to China grew at double digit rates between 2008 and 2011, when growth hit 10.4 percent. iSuppli didn’t report PC shipment growth in China for 2012, but it was in the single digits.

More than 50 percent of the PCs shipped without pre-installed operating systems, while 90 percent of the PCs shipped worldwide had preinstalled operating systems in 2012, according to iSuppli.

The trend could be tied to rampant software piracy in China. Microsoft for more than a decade has been trying to crack down on software piracy in the country, and in a recent investigation bought 169 PCs from shops in China, all of which had pirated versions of Windows.

As PC buyers worldwide increasingly moved to portable devices, desktops and laptop shipments were even in China last year. Desktops accounted for roughly 36 percent of PC shipments worldwide, while laptops made up the rest of the share.

About 70 percent of the laptops shipped in China had a 14-inch screen, while the same screen size constituted less than 30 percent of the shipments worldwide. Also, client and business PC shipments were equal in China, while worldwide, consumer PCs took a 65 percent share, and business PCs held a 35 percent share.

But like the rest of the world, the slowdown in PC buying is affecting China. A number of research firms including Gartner and IDC reported double digit drops in PC shipments for the first quarter this year compared to same quarter in 2012. Research firms have said a wider usage of mobile devices, failure of Windows 8, and continued economic woes worldwide contributed to the contraction of the PC market during the first quarter.

China was one of the bright spots in the PC market free fall. However, people there are also increasingly moving over to smartphone and tablets for computing, iSuppli said. China will remain the top destination for PCs for the foreseeable future, but iSuppli is projecting slower PC shipment growth rate of 3 to 4 percent this year compared to 2012.

There is PC shipment growth potential in China as there is an untapped market of rural and first-time computer buyers, iSuppli said. The top PC vendor in China is Lenovo, but other companies like Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer and Asustek are investing more in the country and expanding the supply chain in an effort to gain market share.

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