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Retail pushes by Dell, Acer breathe life into U.S. PC market

Growth of PC shipments in the U.S. nearly doubles at the end of 2007 due to the expansion into brick-and-mortar stores.

Despite some anticipation of weakening U.S. consumer confidence, PC shipment growth here nearly doubled between the third and fourth quarters of 2007, to reach 8.8 percent, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker report released Wednesday.

Dell actually expanded its market share in the fourth quarter, after a string of disappointing quarters while it reshuffled its ranks and its product lineup. Dell used momentum derived from its new retail push to drive its shipments up by more than 15 percent in the quarter--growth far ahead of the rest of the U.S. The Texas PC maker finished the year with 29.6 percent of the total PC market in the U.S. in the fourth quarter, IDC said.

"From a Dell perspective, part of going from minus-5-percent to 15-percent positive (growth) this quarter is the fact that year-ago shipment was pretty low," said Loren Loverde, director of IDC's quarterly PC report. "So some of that is factoring in, but they have also launched a lot of new products, and lot of new (retail) channel arrangements."

Acer also made a big push in retail this year, continuing the rapid gains in the U.S. (it's grown 294 percent since the same quarter a year ago), and appears to have finally nailed down its coveted No. 3 spot in the worldwide ranking of top PC vendors. When combined with Gateway, Acer shipments achieved 9.6 percent share worldwide in Q4, compared with 6.9 percent a year ago.

Though Lenovo has been nipping at its heels, Acer's most direct competition in the U.S. is the two big guys--Hewlett-Packard and Dell. "HP has a lot more experience with consumers and is going to try to defend that turf. It's a pretty dynamic competitive space all around," Loverde said.

HP, the worldwide PC leader for more than a year now, saw its shipments rise both at home and abroad, though it was somewhat affected by stagnating growth in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, according to IDC. It now has 19 percent of the worldwide market.

Lenovo has been going strong for three straight quarters. It ended the year behind Acer with 7.5 percent of worldwide PC shipments. It's not in the top 5 of vendors in the U.S. market, but recently introduced its new IdeaPad consumer notebook line, which the company hopes will follow in the tradition of its business-oriented ThinkPad line of laptops.

Rival analyst firm Gartner ranks the companies in the same order as IDC, according to findings also released Wednesday: the worldwide leader is HP (with 18.2 percent market share), followed by Dell (14.3), Acer (8.9), Lenovo (7.4), and Toshiba (4.0) to round out the top 5.

In the U.S., it's Dell (31.4 percent market share), HP (26.1), Acer (9), Apple (6.1), and Toshiba (5.3). Apple has stretched its share of the U.S. market to 6.1 percent, from 5.1 percent a year ago. Gartner also notes that for the second consecutive quarter mobile PC shipments exceeded those of desktops.

Though the market for computers--and both business and consumer technology across the board--appears healthy, it could drop off next year. But thus far, there are no signs of it in the PC space.

Though there's been ample hand-wringing over interest rates, credit problems, and weak retail sales, the computing industry is staying immune so far, according to Loverde.

"There's some risk of having an impact on PCs, but a certain amount of it is because we just went through the holiday season and Wall Street is under pressure," he said. "If you look at the broader technology trends...some recovery in 2007, commercial Vista adoption, pretty strong portable (PC) adoption, (and) we're still getting lower prices and new users...A number of tech environment factors that suggest we should expect still some pretty solid growth. The risk that we might not maintain double digit growth in the next couple years would be if we had a recession and consumer spending really started to cut back."