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Apple chortles as the PC market melts down in U.K., France

While the PC market skids in the U.K. and France, Apple coasts to market share gains--possibly presaging a similar trend in the U.S.

Apple is seeing healthy growth in the U.K. and France.
Apple is seeing healthy growth in the U.K. and France. Apple

Traditional PCs are in crisis over in the U.K. and France--and Apple and tablets are picking up the slack.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, shipments in the U.K. PC market fell to 2.9 million units, a decline of 19.6 percent compared with the same period in 2010 (see table below). PCs run the Microsoft Windows operating system.

That marked the fifth consecutive quarterly shipment decline, and also the worst decline in five quarters, Gartner said. For the whole year, the U.K. market declined 15.9 percent, shrinking by nearly 2 million units from 2010.

France isn't faring much better. PC shipments there totaled 2.8 million units in the fourth quarter, falling 11.8 percent compared to a year earlier. For the whole year, PC shipments totaled 10.4 million units, a 12 percent decline from 2010.

Pretty dismal, right? Well, not for everybody. "Only Apple achieved growth [while] four of the top five [PC] vendors performed poorly," said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, speaking about the U.K. market, where Apple posted an increase of over 17 percent compared to the same period last year.

Atwal added that the U.K. PC market was affected by, among other things, the growing popularity of smartphones, media tablets and e-readers. That's significant because it means large numbers of U.K. consumers are opting to buy smaller handheld devices instead of PCs.

And this echoes a report by Canalys that said Apple is now the No. 1 PC vendor in the world because of consistently strong sales of the iPad--which Canalys categorizes as a PC.

HP and Dell were down by 27 percent and 32.2 percent, respectively in the U.K. Acer declined by a whopping 62.4 percent.

And in France, Apple was up, too. The only traditional PC player to see growth in France was Asus, Gartner said.

As in the U.K., tablets are taking market share. "Consumers spent their money on other devices, such as media tablets and smartphones," said Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner.

Is this a sign of things to come in the U.S. and other regions? "PC vendors face a long, uphill struggle to regain the interest of consumers. The introduction of ultrabooks in late 2011 is desperately needed," said Mr. Atwal. Ultrabooks are thin, lightweight Windows laptops that compete with the MacBook Air.

Maybe the only bright spot for PC vendors was Germany. Lenovo did well there because of its acquisition of Medion. And Dell was the only top-five vendor to increase its shipments, due to a lower reliance on the consumer business, according to Gartner.