IDC, Gartner and Canalys have each published hugely differing accounts on the health of the PC market in Q3 of this year.
Each analyst firm disagrees on the market's growth at global and regional levels as well as the macro trends that shaped PC demand.
Channel Partner Insight unpicks all the points where IDC, Gartner and Canalys post conflicting opinions.
No consensus on global market growth
What all three firms do agree on is that the PC market grew in Q3 - there's just no consensus as to how much.
On a global level, PC shipment growth rates varied from a healthy 4.7 per cent to an austere 1.1 per cent between the analyst houses.
Canalys was the most optimistic of the three, claiming that global PC shipments grew by 4.7 per cent in Q3, while Gartner suggested the market saw just a small increase in shipments at 1.1 per cent. IDC lands somewhere in the middle at three per cent growth.
The tone of each analyst house's report also varies greatly. Canalys is upbeat, claiming that Q3 was the best quarter of growth that the PC market has seen in seven years. Gartner, however, says Q3 was a "modest" quarter for PCs, while IDC emphasised that it was a "difficult" quarter for PC vendors that faced supply chain constraints from Intel in Q3.
According to IDC, 70.4 million desktops, notebooks and workstations were shipped in Q3. For Gartner this was down to 68 million units while Canalys has it at 70.9 million units.
Disagreements at a regional level
Contrasts in EMEA
Only Canalys and Gartner gave growth rate figures for the EMEA market. Despite Gartner holding the gloomiest view of the market as a whole, it's EMEA figures are the most optimistic.
Gartner claims the EMEA market grew by three per cent compared with Canalys at two per cent.
While Gartner and Canalys agree that the market grew, their commentaries on how the EMEA market behaved contains several stark differences.
Despite claiming the EMEA market grew by two per cent, Canalys claims EMEA was "below the global average" and that uncertainty over Brexit and its possible outcome "restrained demand for PCs", making businesses "apprehensive about investments for the long-term".
Gartner, however, contains the effect of Brexit to just the UK, claiming that demand "remained strong" across most of western Europe.
While IDC didn't provide any figures for EMEA, its commentary left out any mention of Brexit whatsoever. Instead, IDC claims the traditional PC market had "stable growth" during the quarter and expects a "strong pipeline" of deals as more businesses transition to Windows 10.
Gartner disagrees on the US market
While all three analyst houses agree that the EMEA market was stable and grew in Q3, their accounts of how the US market behaved are wildly different.
Canaly claims US PC shipments grew by three per cent year on year. IDC agrees that there was "low single-digit growth".
But Gartner has a different opinion. It claims that US shipments declined by 0.3 per cent, driven by a third consecutive quarter of declines in non-desktop devices and a lower-than-expected PC demand in the public sector.
Gartner claims the US market could be undergoing a "deceleration" in Windows 10 refreshes, which is causing PC demand to slow as a result.
Conflicting accounts on whether Apple grew or lost market share
All three analyst houses have the same five PC vendors at the top of their global table, in the same order.
For IDC, Canalys and Gartner, Lenovo is top, followed by HP, Dell, then Apple and Acer.
But where they disagree is to what extent the top three PC vendors are pulling away from the rest of the pack, as well as how Apple fared in the PC space last quarter.
Firstly, Canalys and IDC believe that the top three vendors - Lenovo, HP and Dell - are consolidating market share at a faster rate than what Gartner forecasts.
Canalys claims that the top two vendors - Lenovo and HP - now have a combined 48 per cent market share, while IDC believes that one in four PCs shipped during Q3 had a Lenovo logo on it.
While Gartner claims Lenovo, HP and Dell grew shipments by 5.8 per cent, 4.6 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively, Canalys and IDC believe the top three are performing much better.
Lenovo's shipments grew at a strong 7.2 per cent according to Canalys, almost matching IDC's 7.1 per cent. Canalys believes HP saw 8.5 per cent growth against IDC's 9.3 per cent.
Canalys' and IDC's figures for Dell tally up with Gartner at 5.2 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively.
The picture becomes even more confusing when you go beyond the top three vendors.
Apple and Acer's unit growth rates vary wildly depending on which analyst figures you consult. Gartner claims Apple's shipments were down 3.7 per cent year on year, while IDC says they declined by a more severe 6.1 per cent.
Canalys, however, disagrees altogether, claiming that Apple's shipments actually grew by 1.5 per cent after benefitting from a strong back-to-school season in the US along with HP.
The analysts also don't agree with the figures for fifth-ranked Acer Group, which, according to IDC saw shipments drop by 7.2 per cent, while Gartner and Canalys believe it grew shipments by 3.3 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively.
Disagreement on effects of macro issues
This is probably the biggest bone of contention between Gartner and IDC. There has been a great deal of speculation this year about how the US-China trade war and tariffs on IT hardware imported from China will impact customer demand.
There's also been a lot of speculation over how Intel's chip shortage has impacted the PC market.
IDC singled out both of these macro issues as decisive factors in the development of the PC market in Q3. It made specific reference to the US-China trade war, claiming that trade tensions "drove the market forward" in Q3 as PC vendors tried to push inventory through to customers ahead of the higher tariffs coming into effect in December.
IDC's research manager for its mobile device trackers, Jitesh Ubrani, said trade tensions directly affected vendor supply chains.
"The trade tensions are also leading to changes in the supply chain as most notebook manufacturers are now prepared to move production to other countries in Asia, such as Taiwan and Vietnam," he said.
Canalys also expanded on the negative impact of the US-China trade war and Intel's chip shortage on the PC market. Like IDC, it claims the PC market has enjoyed a short-term boost from vendors pushing through more orders and partners stockpiling inventory ahead of the 15 December tariff deadline.
Canalys research director Rushabh Doshi said a shortage of some Intel chips remains an issue.
"Intel remains a key bottleneck, with pressure on its 14nm CPU supply not likely to see improvement until Q1 2020," he claims.
But Gartner completely disagrees, and took pains to emphasise that neither of these issues had any real impact on the PC market for Q3.
"Neither the Intel CPU shortage nor the US-China trade war had a significant impact on PC shipments in the third quarter of 2019. The Intel CPU shortage has continued to ease, and US tariffs on China-built mobile PCs had a minimal impact on PC shipments as the date for the potential increase in tariffs was pushed out to December 2019," said Ms. Kitagawa.
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