More Notebooks than Desktops Sold in 2005

A new report from research firm Current Analysis finds that, for the first time, sales of notebook computers exceeded those of desktop systems in the U.S. retail market. According to their figures, notebooks accounted for 50.9 percent of retail computer sales while desktops carried 49.1 percent of the market.

The figures account only for sales via traditional retail channels, and do not include corporate and government sales or systems sold by direct marketers like Dell. And generalizing these results to the rest of the world is a chancy thing, because the United States currently accounts for less than 10 percent of the worldwide computer market. Still, the figure represents a strong increase in the sales of notebook systems: in 2004, the same figures indicated notebooks accounted for only 43 percent of retail computer sales.

Analysts have been predicting retail notebook sales would eventually overtake desktop systems, and computer makers like Apple, Sony, and Dell have been saying since at least 2002 that they expected notebook systems would eventually be more popular than desktop (or “professional level”) systems. But recent predictions placed the tipping point for notebooks as far out as 2007 or 2008: the Current Analysis report may indicate demand for notebooks is stronger than anyone knew.

The main reason may be price: the price of notebook computers has dropped considerably in the last two years, with base-level systems now available for as little as $500. Consumers can certainly spend considerably more money on notebooks, but those dollars tend to purchase special-use add-ons (enhanced storage, cellular connectivity, DVD burning) or ease-of-use amenities like better keyboards and bigger displays rather than radical improvements in performance or battery life.

Current Analysis says it expects the growth of notebooks in the U.S. retail markets to continue in 2006 as products built around Intel’s Core Duo CPUs improve performance and prices for 64-bit computing in notebooks begin to drop.