Apple, for example, is on pace for a record year of Mac sales: If the December quarter sports a sequential increase in line with historical trends, Apple will sell 19.9 million Macs in 2014, nearly 3 million more than a year ago.
Although the almost-20 million Macs sold would account for just 6.4% of all personal computers, that would be a one-percentage point increase over its 2013 share and a 1.5-point increase over 2012's. In a climate where shipments are declining or best case, flat in the future, any gains by the Mac come at the expense of others, particularly Windows OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).
Chromebooks, powered by Google's free Chrome OS, have also made inroads into Windows PC sales this year. In response, Microsoft has tried to blunt Chromebooks -- successfully, said Stephen Baker of the NPD Group -- by subsidizing Windows for OEMs selling ultra-inexpensive laptops at the same price points.
The move by Microsoft and its partners to compete with Chromebooks has lowered prices, good for buyers but not for OEMs who face even thinner margins as they try to maintain sales share in the no-growth industry. For its part, Microsoft hopes to generate revenue through services to make up for what it forgoes by making Windows free.
Although the PC will not disappear -- sales stagnation will still result in hundreds of millions of systems continuing to come off factory lines each year -- an extended period of zero growth seems certain at this point.
"Going forward, as younger generations become more mobile and Web oriented, and emerging regions in particular prioritize converged devices (or economy in number of devices to purchase), the PC market will continue to face tough competition and be more focused on replacements, with limited potential for growth," said IDC's Loverde.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.