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Canalys: Tablets boost worldwide PC market in Q1

Research firm says PC shipments rose 7 percent in the first quarter of 2011, with devices like the iPad helping the overall numbers--but also posing "a real threat" to traditional PCs.

Tablets are impacting PC shipments worldwide.
Tablets are impacting PC shipments worldwide.
Donald Bell/CNET

If it weren't for tablets, the global PC market wouldn't be as healthy as it seems to be, a new report from research firm Canalys has found.

Worldwide PC shipments in the first quarter of 2011 reached over 88.6 million units, representing a 7 percent gain compared to the first quarter of 2010, when 82.8 million PCs shipped, according to Canalys. Hewlett-Packard once again led the way in the first quarter of 2011, shipping more than 14.6 million PCs for a 16.6 percent share of the market. However, its total shipments were down 5.8 percent year over year, Canalys found. HP was followed by Acer and Dell, which shipped 11.3 million and 10 million PC units during the first quarter, respectively. Acer's shipments slid 6.5 percent on the quarter, while Dell's were up 2.8 percent.

But it was Apple that delivered the most impressive growth on the quarter. According to Canalys, Apple shipped over 8.4 million PCs, including Macs and iPads, during the period, up a whopping 188 percent compared to the same period last year.

By including tablets (or "pads," as Canalys calls them) in its tally, the research firm is underscoring the question of whether devices like the iPad should be lumped with traditional computers like desktops and notebooks. Some say that by including tablets, the figures are skewed in Apple's favor, since that company continues to dominate the tablet space.

According to Canalys, Apple's iPad secured 74 percent of the tablet market during the first quarter of 2011.

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For its part, Canalys has said time and again that not including tablets in PC shipment figures makes little sense.

"Any argument that a pad is not a PC is simply out of sync," Canalys analyst Daryl Chiam said in a statement earlier this year. "With screen sizes of 7 inches or above, ample processing power, and a growing number of applications, pads offer a computing experience comparable to Netbooks. They compete for the same customers and will happily coexist."

The argument goes beyond basic specs. Another Canalys analyst, Tim Coulling, said today that tablets are vying for the same consumer cash as all other PCs on the market. And they might just be able to replace more than just Netbooks.

"The pad represents a real threat to PC and consumer electronics vendors, as it is capable of replacing devices in a range of other categories," Coulling said.

Not every market research firm agrees with the idea that tablets should be included in tallies of PC shipments. And because of that, their analysis on the first quarter of 2011 can be dramatically different than Canalys'.

That's especially evident when one considers IDC's findings on PC shipments in the first quarter. That firm, which did not include tablets in its tally, reported that the global PC market was down 3.2 percent compared to the prior year. Moreover, unlike Canalys' findings, Apple was nowhere to be found in IDC's list of the top five PC vendors worldwide. HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, and Toshiba graced that list.

Even so, IDC did acknowledge that tablets played a role in the decline of PC shipments in the first quarter. It said that in addition to "extended PC lifetimes and the lack of compelling new PC experiences," the increasing popularity of tablets contributed to the issues PC vendors witnessed earlier this year.