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PCs Back From the Dead? Not So Fast.

After eight straight quarters of declines, a tiny upward turn in PC sales says nothing about the long-term trend.

Fer Gregory / Shutterstock

The expiration of an operating system born shortly after the dotcom crash and before Barack Obama was in the White House was the main reason why PC makers fired off press releases this morning proclaiming the return of the PC era.

Don’t celebrate just yet.

In a word not seen associated with the PC sector in two years, market research firm Gartner said it saw “growth” in the personal computer market in the second quarter. This was cheered by the markets — reflected in the stock prices of Microsoft, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Seagate and Western Digital — more used to phrases like “the worst year since records have been kept” to describe the state of affairs.

But what drove the meager 0.1 percent growth in global consumer and business PC shipments between April and the end of June could be short lived. Microsoft’s decision to end enterprise support for Windows XP on April 8 drove businesses and professionals to replace old machines or risk catastrophic failure.

Gartner PC Shipment q2 2014

Evidence suggests this refresh cycle won’t last long. The earnings results last week of Synnex, a big distributor of PCs and tech products to large businesses, called the the XP expiration a “tailwind” in its earnings report last week. But when pressed by analysts on a conference call, its CEO conceded that it’s now “expected to subside.”

There may be some reprieve next year as a result of Microsoft’s announcement that it would cut off “mainstream support” for Windows 7 — the one that followed the one that followed XP (remember Vista?) — early next year, though “extended support will go on into 2020.” (ZDNet breaks downs the nuances nicely here.)

A glance at the global picture also foreshadows another ominous trend coming later this year. Though most regions saw upticks of seven percent to nine percent, one in particular, the Asia-Pacific region, registered a decline of nearly nine percent in shipments. The reason for the decline? Big smartphones. The atrociously named phablets, hybrids of phones and tablets, are eating into the low-end notebook market.

Expect this to continue as the arms race for bigger phone screens continues unabated.

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