PC Sales Weakened in Q4–Everyone Blame the iPad

Published on January 12, 2011
by Arik Hesseldahl

Research houses Gartner and IDC are both out with their market reports on PC sales for the fourth quarter and the full year of 2010. Both say the market was weak, and both are citing the same reason: Apple’s iPad.

One interesting revelation is that both Hewlett-Packard and Acer, the top two vendors by volume in the Gartner survey, saw their shipments decline year-on-year in a period where the rest of the industry was seeing growth, albeit slower than had been previously expected.

Hewlett-Packard maintained its market lead, with a share of about 18 percent worldwide, and 29 percent in the U.S. Acer came in second. Both saw their unit volumes decline. For HP, that translated to a decline of more than 200,000 units in fourth-quarter PC sales, or a little more than 1 percent. For Acer, which had hitched its wagon to the netbook craze a few years ago, it translated to a decline of nearly 2 percent, or more than 222,000 units. Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba all saw their shipments grow, with Lenovo leading the pack, growing a healthy 21 percent.

Gartner says that worldwide shipments totaled 93.5 million units in the fourth quarter, which amounted to growth of only 3 percent over the same period a year earlier, falling short of the 5 percent growth it had previously forecast. Gartner Analyst Mikako Kitagawa blames the iPad and other media tablets for the slackening growth. She says the industry’s one bright spot, oddly enough, is in enterprise, where companies are upgrading the machines they issue their employees. For the full year, the worldwide PC industry recovered from the recession, growing nearly 14 percent to 308 million units.

Apple remained in fifth place in the U.S. with a share of market just shy of 10 percent, and less than a percentage point behind Toshiba. Notably, this figure doesn’t include iPads, which hit a combined 7.5 million units in Apple’s third and fourth fiscal quarters, both of which ended before the holiday season. (Apple will reports earnings for its first fiscal quarter, which includes the holiday season, next week.)

IDC’s survey found the same trend, but it differed from the Gartner survey on a few key points. IDC put Dell in second place, behind HP and ahead of Acer in the worldwide market share race. I’ll attribute this to differences in methodology, since Gartner and IDC differ a little in how they count.

Another interesting note is that IDC paints a more negative picture of Acer, pegging its decline in fourth-quarter sales at 15 percent from 2009 to 2010. I asked IDC analyst Loren Loverde about the difference in IDC’s results versus Gartner’s, and he said part of it comes from differences in methodology, but also from the fact that Acer is closely held and so is a tricky company to track, and the data it does disclose isn’t as detailed as the other companies’.

But Loverde also says decline, whether 2 percent or 15 percent, reflects a stark business reality for Acer. The road to PC growth through mini-notebooks and geographic expansion is closed. It was a good strategy while it lasted.

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