Dell, Helped by Apple iPad, Grabs No. 2 PC Spot from Acer

Dell pulled ahead of close rival Acer during the fourth quarter of 2010, thanks to an assist from an unlikely source: the Apple iPad, says a new report.

In terms of PC shipments, Dell pulled ahead of neck-and-neck competitor Acer during the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a March 10 report from IHS iSuppli. Helping Dell, said the firm, was the same device partly blamed for sluggish PC shipments the quarter before: the Apple iPad.

The iPad and competing tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, are hurting sales of netbooks and notebooks-Acer's bread and butter. According to IHS iSuppli, Dell's fourth-quarter PC shipments remained completely flat. It didn't move ahead so much as Acer fell back-by 12.9 percent-hurt by a loss of consumer interest. (Between the iPad's April 2010 launch date and December 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced recently, Apple sold nearly 15 million tablets. More bad news for the netbook makers: March 11 marks the debut of the iPad 2.)

"A little more than one year after a prolonged decline in shipments caused Dell to lose its customary second-place ranking to rival Acer, Dell now seems to have regained a firm hold on the No. 2 rank," Matthew Wilkins, an IHS iSuppli principal analyst, said in a statement. "Acer in the third quarter of 2009 had surged to the No. 2 spot on the strength of its strong sales of netbook PCs to consumers and a generally buoyant consumer market. However, with momentum for consumer PCs waning and in light of growing competition from media tablets, Acer's gains have been reversed."

Hewlett-Packard, boasting 13.6 percent sequential growth, once again held the first-place position. Despite an ailing consumer PC market, the corporate PC market flourished, encouraged by companies continuing to update old desktops with faster and more efficient models.

Global PC shipments during the quarter hit a quarterly record, sailing past the previous high of 88.9 million units, set the previous fourth quarter, to 93.1 million units. The figure represented an increase of 5.7 percent over the quarter before and 4.7 percent from a year ago.

"With its record performance during the last three months of 2010, the worldwide PC business took another step toward becoming a market generating 100 million units per quarter," said Wilkins.

For the entirety of 2010, the global PC market saw 345.4 million units ship-a jump of 14.2 percent over 2009's 302.4 million units. And for the whole of 2010, Dell edged out Acer's market share by just 0.7 percentage points.

"Back in the depths of the 2009 recession, the PC industry would have been happy if 2010 brought single-digit growth in shipments," Wilkins said. "However, with the market coming back strong amid growth in the mid-teens, the PC industry will look back on 2010 as a year that exceeded expectations."

It will also mark the end of a simpler time for tallying PCs. Research firms such as Canalys and DisplaySearch have begun including tablet sales in their PC shipment totals.

"Any argument that a [tablet] is not a PC is simply out of sync," Canalys analyst Daryl Chiam said in a Jan. 26 report.

In including tablets, it's not only Acer that gets nudged down a chair. According to DisplaySearch, when tablets are included, Apple, not HP, tops the heap-and with more than a million units difference between them.

"While we anticipate increased competition in the tablet PC market later this year with the introduction of Android Honeycomb-based tablets, Apple's iPad business is complementing a notebook line whose shipments widely exceed the industry average growth rate," said DisplaySearch senior analyst Richard Shim. "Apple is currently benefiting from significant and comprehensive growth from both sectors of the mobile PC spectrum, notebooks and tablet PCs."

By IHS iSuppli's count, however, Lenovo finished in third place, behind Acer, up 2.9 percent over the quarter before, and Toshiba finished in fifth, up 9 percent from the third quarter.