Hey, Maybe the PC Isn’t Dying

But it's about to get harder to categorize.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

Despite the prevailing opinion that the the PC is doomed, things could be a lot worse–at least in the United States.

According to Gartner, worldwide PC sales declined by 10.9 percent year-over-year last quarter. That’s the fifth quarter of declining PC shipments in a row.

But in the United States, the situation isn’t nearly as bleak. Overall PC shipments fell by just 1.4 percent, the smallest year-over-year decline since the beginning of 2012. Lenovo’s PC growth shot up by 20 percent, and Dell managed to grow by 6.4 percent. Even HP, which had some disastrous quarters recently, was almost stable, with a 0.5 percent drop in PC shipments.

No one would argue that a 1.4 percent decline is great news, but it’s not as bad as previous quarters, when U.S. PC shipments appeared to be in a free fall. Last quarter, U.S. shipments were down 9.6 percent. A year ago, they were down 5.7 percent.

What’s going on? Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa thinks a lot of the growth is coming from professional users who are finally upgrading their old Windows XP machines. Microsoft will end extended support for XP next year, so businesses could be looking to replace their hardware before then.

That’s both good and bad news. It could suggest that businesses aren’t afraid of Windows 8 (though I wonder how many are exercising their downgrade rights). But it could also signal a temporary growth spurt that will cease after most of the Windows XP machines get replaced.

In any case, Gartner is sticking with its long-held view that the traditional PC market is sinking. Users are putting off the purchase of new laptops or desktops, and buying tablets for casual computing instead. The idea is that most homes will have one or two traditional PCs for productivity, but tablet use will become more prevalent overall.

It certainly seems that way now, but the future’s a lot harder to pin down. Microsoft is dead-set on knocking down the walls between PCs, tablets and phones, with one experience across all devices. We’ll continue to see Windows-based hybrid devices that blur the lines between tablet and laptop. (I’m still waiting for the perfect execution.)

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the low-end laptop market. Chromebooks offer an inexpensive way to access the full desktop web, and they seem to be picking up steam. Later this year, Intel says its processors will power lots of new cheap, touch-enabled laptops running either Windows or Android.

Those who do want a more traditional laptop will find that these machines are getting thinner, lighter and more powerful, with longer battery life. Apple’s new Macbook Airs are a great example, and Windows PC makers will soon counter with a wave of high-end laptops with high-res touchscreens and ultra-thin designs.

When you consider how much is happening right now, the PC doesn’t seem dead. It’s just breaking out of its traditionally clunky, heavy, uninspiring shell. Cheap tablets will continue to be popular, but there’s room for these other devices to fit in when a small touch screen just won’t do. That’s basically what the post-PC era is all about, and it’s going to get a lot trickier for Gartner to count.