Skip to main content

'Dell'wether: Does the desktop decline point to an era's end?

By Ramy Inocencio, for CNN
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
A woman operates one of the early desktop IBM computers in this photo from 1955. Today, desktop and laptop computers are on the decline as consumers flock toward tablet devices. Dell's first quarter profit plunged 79% because of slower PC sales.
A woman operates one of the early desktop IBM computers in this photo from 1955. Today, desktop and laptop computers are on the decline as consumers flock toward tablet devices. Dell's first quarter profit plunged 79% because of slower PC sales.
  • Dell says first quarter profits fall nearly 80% on slump in desktop, laptop sales
  • Analyst: 'PC industry throwing darts at the board to see what sticks'
  • Gartner: PC shipments fell 11% year on year in the first quarter
  • Dell attempting to shift from personal computers to "enterprise solutions" focus

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Dell, the world's number three PC maker, reported Thursday a 79% profit plunge for the first quarter of the year -- to just $130 million -- owing to a slump in desktop and laptop sales, so-called "end-user computing" products. Quarterly operating income for the division fell 65% year on year.

"In the PC industry, everyone is struggling -- not just Dell -- and especially in the mobile PC market," says Craig Stice, Senior Principal Analyst at U.S.-based Compute Platforms. "When I look at those (Dell) revenues split between mobility and desktop, they're really not too far out of line with where the industry is at. The entire PC market struggled in Q1."

Technology research firm Gartner estimated 79 million PC shipments occurred in the first quarter of 2013 -- a fall of more than 11% year on year. HP saw a 24% drop in PC shipments, Dell fell 11% while Taiwan-based Acer Group fell nearly 30%.

The fall in global PC shipments contrasted with a rise in tablet volumes, according to IDC, an IT market research firm. From January to March this year, Apple shipped nearly 20 million units to be the world's number one tablet maker; Samsung shipped nearly 9 million units for second place. The world's top five tablet computer companies shipped more than 49 million units to record 142% growth year on year.

2012: Last rites for PCs?
Who will win control of Dell?
Dell's humble beginnings

Dell has been trying to counter losses in its PC division by shifting to enterprise solutions, which includes hardware like computer servers, software for business applications and technical support to service clients.

Dell's quarterly operating income for the enterprise division soared 71% to $79 million but contributed just 8% of the company's total income.

"Enterprise solutions are significant growth opportunities," says Stice. "The margins are certainly better than the PC area -- high single digits to the low teens -- versus the enterprise space which is considerably higher."

In terms of hardware units sold for enterprise solutions, HP has traditionally been number one, with Dell and IBM rounding out the top three, adds Stice.

Still, the future seems anything but bright for the PC industry despite a flurry of attempted innovations, from super-thin and light ultrabooks to convertible PCs that can morph into tablet forms.

"Dell was a bit slow to the Ultrabook game and lost to players like (Taiwan's) Asus and Acer," says Richard Lai, Editor-in-Chief of Engadget Chinese. In addition, Dell's dive into convertible laptops "was rather half-hearted: poor screen, too bulky."

"You can kind of say the PC industry is throwing darts at the board to see what sticks," says Stice. "If they can find that combination of a whole computing performance PC, with mobility and a low price point to compete with some of those $200 media tablets, then I think there's opportunity. There's still an opportunity for a PC refresh cycle. That can happen."

Part of complete coverage on
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1537 GMT (2337 HKT)
Cyprus, the tiny Mediterranean island bailed a year ago, is starting to rebuild itself, the finance minister tells CNN.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Mobile World Congress spans the full spectrum of untethered gadgetry Explore this year's top trends with Stuff Magazine Editor Will Findlater.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 1203 GMT (2003 HKT)
CNN's John Defterios says India's election race will likely boil down to three simple numbers: growth, inflation and interest rates.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1107 GMT (1907 HKT)
More than a million Londoners live in flatshares. And while this used to be associated with students, more mature people find themselves sharing.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
Nina Dos Santos visits Baselworld the world's most prestigious event for top jewelry and watch brands.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Will Xi Jinping's historic visit to the European Union headquarters help the Chinese leader get what he needs from the EU?
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Binnaz Saktanber says many feel trapped between their brains, telling them to leave Turkey, and hearts, which tell them to stay.
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
"I thought I'd sold it," says Norwegian man who left luxury boat in marina two years -- with keys tied to railings. What happened?
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
The United Kingdom is champagne's biggest export market. CNN's Isa Soares reports on what's driving sales.
March 26, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
"Sorry, I don't go south of the river," was once a common refrain from London taxi drivers. Not anymore. South London is booming.
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1834 GMT (0234 HKT)
The list of Russians targeted by Western sanctions includes people from Vladimir Putin's inner circle -- including his judo sparring partner.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Her passion for public speaking and networking have earned Julia Hobsbawm the moniker "queen of networking." What is her secret?
Google Glass is trying to shed its public relations problem of a nerdy image by teaming up with the company behind Ray-Bans and Oakley sunglasses.
March 24, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
European leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss further sanctions against Russia. But they are likely to be cautious. Here is why.