The rollercoaster ride that is the laptop market

Sales are up in January while another vendor dumps its PC business and the industry lowers projections.

The upheaval continues in the computing industry, as Sony is the latest firm to dump its computing business, and while the rest of the industry lowers projections for 2014, January was actually an up month, according to one research firm.

Digitimes Research found notebook shipments from the top five brand vendors were better than expected in January 2014, up 9% from January 2013. That's still a 15% decline from the previous month, but sales always fall off precipitously between December and January.

Asustek had the best quarter, showing a 25% sequential gain in January. Apple, Lenovo and Dell followed Asustek in terms of shipments in January. In addition, Digitimes Research projects Apple is likely to maintain a shipment volume of over one million units a month in the first quarter, thanks to sales of the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Many of the major Chinese ODMs – the companies that actually make the laptops for other companies to slap their logo on and sell under their brand name – had a strong quarter, although a few had drops that were typical of the seasonal decline.

One quarter does not a year make, especially after the bleeding of the last two years. As it stands now, notebook manufacturers have reduced their 2014 unit shipment estimates. According to NPD DisplaySearch, the top nine notebook PC brand makers project their total 2014 sales at 134 million, well below the previously estimate of 152 million units.

Also not helping is that Intel delayed production of its next-generation "Broadwell" CPUs from Q4 2013 to Q1 2014 and postponed shipments until Q3 2014. This means notebook makers are delaying rollouts while they wait for a new processor. Broadwell is a 14nm shrink of the 22nm "Haswell" line, so with the process shrink should come more power efficiency and slightly cooler notebooks.

It was all too much for Sony, a company struggling to survive in a world where cheaper products from Korea and China have eaten away at the company that once inspired Steve Jobs. As part of a major reorganization, the company announced it will sell off its VAIO brand PC business to Japan Industrial Partners Inc., a private investment fund.

Sony has one last product lineup to launch, the spring 2014 line. After that it will be handled by a new company being established by JIP, which will take on Sony employees involved in the VAIO product line.

It's chaotic out there… Dell going private, IBM selling off the x86 server business, HP rebelling against Microsoft, the rise of Chromebooks. But it's not boring.

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