updated 06:00 pm EST, Mon January 30, 2012
Moves past longtime leader HP
Apple's extraordinary year-end results has catapulted it to the top position among PC vendors, according to a new report by industry analyst firm Canalys. The company shipped 15.4 million iPads and 5.2 million Macs in the calendar fourth quarter, representing 17 percent of all "client PCs" (meaning desktops, notebooks, netbooks and tablets combined) shipped globally during that period. Last year, Apple was the third-place PC vendor with tablets included.
Some analysts have long argued that tablet computers should be counted as "PCs," since they have always been functionally similar to netbooks and notebooks and distinct from smartphones. Including tablets, however, favors Apple and diminishes the top five other computer makers, none of whom have gained traction with their own tablet models.
To put this in perspective, when one includes tablets in the Q4 shipment numbers, the industry as a whole grew 16 percent year-on-year. Excluding tablets, the PC market fell 0.4 percent. Until the holiday quarter, combined sales of all non-Apple tablets generally hovered around one to 1.5 million per quarter globally.
In the US alone, if one excludes Apple's sales from the rest of the PC industry, sales dropped 8.5 percent. With Apple, the decline was only 5.9 percent. Globally, Apple gained six percentage points in fourth-quarter shipments, the only vendor outside of Lenovo to gain share at all, and Apple gained three times what Lenovo managed.
Canalys had predicted that Apple would become the top global PC vendor by mid-2012 back in November, but the strong year-end sales of Apple products moved Apple into the top spot early. Overall, Apple sold 17.8 million Macs and 40.5 million iPads in calendar 2011, a total of 58.3 million "client PC" units out of an overall estimated 352 million units shipped. The company continues to manage double-digit growth compared to the overall PC industry, which grew at just over half a percentage point globally compared to 2010 shipments.
Taken as a category on their own, iPads are estimated to have between 75 and 88 percent of the global tablet market, with only the Amazon Kindle Fire doing well in overall sales by comparison. Amazon is estimated to have sold six million Kindle Fires in the fourth quarter, less than half the number iPads sold in the same period and not yet indicative of the product's non-holiday success.
Canalys believes Apple will refresh the iPad sometime in spring, keeping sales high and continuing to dominate the tablet space in 2012. Tablets overall (including the iPad and all non-Apple tablets, including e-reader-oriented models like the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook) accounted for 22 percent of total PC shipments in 2011.