Apple Sales Up, but Slip Against Cheaper Competitors

HP, Dell and Acer outpace Apple as low-priced mininotebooks and netbooks find favor in place of pricey Macs.

Worldwide PC shipments surpassed 90 million units in the fourth quarter of 2009, a 22.1 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2008, according to preliminary results by technology research and analysis firm Gartner-the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth rate the worldwide PC market has experienced in the last seven years.

Hewlett-Packard surpassed Dell as the top vendor in the United States based on PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2009, as the company became more competitive on pricing and teamed up successfully with large retailers. Apple sales, meanwhile, while rising 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter 2009, slipped one place overall to fifth, behind HP, Dell, Acer and Toshiba.

In the United States, PC shipments totaled 19.8 million units in the fourth quarter of 2009, a 26.5 percent increase compared with the fourth quarter of 2008. Similar to worldwide trends, this was the highest quarter-over-quarter growth rate in the United States in the last seven years. "Aggressive promotion by PC vendors and channels stimulated consumer PC demand," said Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa. "However, some vendors made damaging price cuts to increase market share."

HP maintained the top position in worldwide PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2009, as it grew slightly higher than the industry average. Gartner analysts said that not only did HP regain the top position in the United States, but in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) as well.

Acer established itself as a leader of the sub-$500 consumer mobile PC segment in key regions, according to Gartner. Acer's improved branding strategies also helped it to work better with channel partners. Dell grew below the worldwide average in the fourth quarter because the company did not fully benefit from strong holiday sales and it was not as aggressive on pricing as its competitors in order to protect profits, Gartner analysts noted.

"Shipment growth was largely driven by low-priced consumer mobile PCs, both in regular notebooks and mini-notebooks. As economic weakness continued, buyers became extremely price sensitive. Low-priced PCs were good enough for many average consumers," Kitagawa said. "Windows 7 was launched during the fourth quarter of 2009. Though the new operating system launch did not create additional PC demand, the launch was a good market tool during holiday sales."

In the fourth quarter of 2009, PC shipments in EMEA totaled 29.7 million units, a 3.6 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2008. Once again, mini-notebooks were the dominant growth platform.

"The EMEA PC market was finally on the upward growth curve in the fourth quarter of 2009, and was the last major region across the world to do so," said Ranjit Atwal, principal analyst for Gartner's Client Computing Markets group in EMEA. "The quarter-over-quarter increase was nearly 17 percent, indicating a return to seasonal patterns."