Fed up with losing money in a shrinking PC market, notebook OEMs are getting into servers and datacentre hardware.
According to Digitimes, Quanta and Compal have been hiring staff specifically to create hardware for servers used in cloud computing data centres and their component suppliers. Apparently thermal modules, power supplies and metal stamping, have also extended related production makes a mile of cash.
The role model for the move is Intel, which saw its datacentre business units grow by 10 percent while profits from the business also surpassed its PC business.
The trend also triggered upstream supply chains to start turning their focuses to the segment.
Taiwan-based thermal module maker Chaun-Choung has 40 percent of its revenues contributed by server-related products. CCI ships about eight million thermal modules for servers each year, and is supplying to clients including HP, Dell, and Quanta.
Japan-based thermal module maker Furukawa also recently entered the supply chain of Google and Microsoft to supply products for their datacenters. The company also started sending samples to Facebook and Amazon recently, looking to expand into their supply chains.
Quanta’s server team has 1,000 employees and is focusing mainly on the integration between software and hardware and wants to double the team’s personnel by Christmas. Compal’s server team has recruited about 300 employees in two years and is still expanding.
Shipments of LCD panels for notebooks dropped 23 percent in July year-on-year, according to new data from IHS. Eight out of the nine leading PC vendors cut their LCD shipments and total shipments were just 1.49 million units, down from 19.3 million in July 2012. Worse, shipments were down 18 percent sequentially.
The sharp drop can be in part attributed to seasonal trends, but there were a few other factors as well. Demand for new Haswell-based deigns remains soft and the fact that many people are still waiting for Windows 8.1 did not help, either. All this resulted in some inventory problems.
“Notebook brands during the third quarter typically increase their purchases of LCD panels as they prepare to launch new mobile PC models for the second half of the year,” said Ricky Park, senior manager for large-area displays at IHS. “However, many key brands this year have accumulated large panel inventory surpluses because of weak sales in the first half. This has caused them to reduce purchases in July, leading to major declines in notebook PC panel market shipments both on a sequential and an annual basis.”
Many notebook makers are still sitting on heaps of old displays and they are clearly having a hard time getting rid of them. Acer’s panel orders dropped 53 percent in June, Toshiba was down 43 percent and even mighty Lenovo experienced a 35 percent drop. It did not get any better in July.
IHS expects to see some positive figures in August, as the market should return to sequential growth, but on-year figures won’t look good.
Intel is in the middle of a leadership change and on top of that it is facing headwinds coming from all directions. The chipmaker finally seems to be getting it, at least if statements from CEO Brian Krzanich and President Renee James are anything to go by, and they are.
However, although the new Intel is all about Atom and hybrids, the company is still trying to put a positive spin on dismal PC sales. Intel commissioned an IDC survey of 3,997 US adults which apparently found that the PC is still alive and well. We beg to differ.
The survey found that 97 percent of respondents still believe their PCs are their primary computing devices, not smartphones or tablets. They consider access to their PC essential and 73 percent said they would rather go without exercise than without their PC. Geeks aren’t into exercise, but they are into candy and sweets, yet 71 percent said they would rather ditch their sugary treats than their PCs. Another 65 percent said the same about caffeine, 58 percent would rather ditch their TV, while 33 percent would rather spend a few days without their car than without their PC. The average time spent on computing devices was 43 hours a week and half of that was spent in front of a PC.
However, these figures don’t matter nearly as much as the next one – the average PC is four years old. Just a few years ago this would mean that the average PC is ripe for an upgrade, but this is no longer the case. The upgrade cycle has slowed down and average users have little to gain from getting a new PC. Professionals and gamers are a different breed, but the bulk of PC purchases comes from mainstream users.
Over the last decade or so the PC has become so mature that it is practically treated like any other household appliance. People get a new one only when the old one breaks. Nobody buys a new microwave because Samsung launched a new one, with a colour touchscreen. The same is slowly becoming true of PCs.
On a more positive note, the PC is still practically the only platform for productivity. Tablets and smartphones can’t replace it and they can’t even come close, at least not in the foreseeable future. As a result, 83 percent of respondents to the IDC survey said they are more productive on their PCs than on smartphones or tablets. As for the remaining 17 percent, we’re not sure they know what “productive” means.
Tablet sales are going through the roof, but some consumers still prefer the flexibility of a proper PC. According to a Deloitte survey, laptops are still huge on college campuses, which makes sense as it’s easier to copy papers and download illegal torrents on PCs.
The survey found that 82 percent of college students own PCs and 80 percent have smartphones. However, although tablets are popular among every age group, just 18 percent of college students in the US have one. Deloitte concluded that the combination of smartphones and laptops simply makes tablets redundant in a campus setting, reports Marketwatch.
There are a couple of factors contributing to the popularity of traditional PCs among students. First of all they are still unbeatable when it comes to productivity. While tablets may be more practical for reading and researching, nobody is going to write a paper on a tablet. In addition, PCs are incredibly cheap right now, so a low-end PC often costs less than an iPad mini. We also think gaming and storage have something to do with it. When they’re not writing papers, students can use their boxes to play or enjoy some movies or TV shows.
In addition, many PC vendors are offering tempting deals designed specifically for cash strapped students. Dell University, HP Academy and Apple’s Educational Pricing programmes offer big discounts in the US, although the same doesn’t apply to most European markets.
The only trouble is that students don’t like to spend much, so they usually go for the cheapest possible box. They aren’t very likely to choose fancy all-in-ones or small form factor PCs, but there are also quite a few gamers in the mix and they have no choice but to go after high-end PCs or pricey upgrade components.
Worldwide shipments of laptops in the second quarter reached 39.4 million units, up 0.4 percent over the first quarter, according to WitsView. It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t, but given the state of the PC market any hint of growth is an encouraging sign.
Although overall shipments are up, the nine leading laptop makers saw an 0.7 percent decline quarter-on-quarter, which was caused by inventory problems. New designs based on Intel Haswell chips are coming online and big brands are apparently not getting rid of Ivy Bridge models fast enough.
Hewlett Packard had a good quarter, shipping 7 million units, up 10 percent from Q1, while Lenovo shipped 6.3 million units and stayed relatively flat. Acer and Asus dropped 0.2 and 1 percent respectively, while Toshiba had a terrible quarter, ending with a 12.6 percent slump.
Researchers noted that the market started to slow down in June, as consumers held back on purchases and decided to wait for Haswell products. However, the Haswell rollout was hampered by inventory issues, as manufacturers could not liquidate their Ivy Bridge stock in time. It was basically a vicious circle.
WitsView reckons the market could start to recover in the second half of the year, due to seasonal trends. If all goes well, Q3 laptop shipments could grow seven to nine percent. Sales by second- and third-tier brands are also expected to go up.
Increasing demand for tablets, coupled with weak demand from China, is expected to hit notebook shipments in the second quarter.
According to Barclays Capital, global shipments will tumble 17 per cent from Q4 2012, traditionally the strongest quarter for notebook shipments. Notebook sales in Q2 usually grow by about 6 per cent, but Barclays believes shipments will grow only 4 per cent this year. Yang attributed the decline in demand from China to the ever increasing demand for tablets.
Barclays analyst Kirk Yang believes the weaker than expected growth also reflects delays in the introduction of new models. Both Intel and AMD are about to introduce new mobile processors and a new generation of touch enabled Ultrabooks is also on the way.
Taipei Times reports that Quanta, the world’s leading notebook ODM, is simply not receiving many orders. International brands are reluctant to place large orders, as better gear is just around the corner.
The really bad news is that things will not pick up anytime soon. Weak demand will plague the market well into the fourth quarter of 2013.
There are some technical challenges as well. Next generation hybrids and convertibles aren’t making much of an impact on the market yet. A shortage of touchscreen panels means that the production of touch enabled notebooks won’t pick up until later this year, which will roughly coincide with the rollout of new Intel mobile chips. SSDs remain prohibitively expensive for some market segments and they are still reserved for quite pricey SKUs. The same goes for high definition 1080p screens in sub 14-inch market.
In other words, consumers who don’t opt for high end devices really don’t have much of an incentive to upgrade.