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Apple iPad breaks HP's hold on top PC spot

With popularity of the iPad undiminished, Apple easily surges past Hewlett-Packard as the top PC maker in the world, according to Canalys.

Will a company like Amazon be Apple's biggest rival in a few years? Canalys' CEO thinks it's possible.
Will a company like Amazon be Apple's biggest rival in a few years? Canalys' CEO thinks it's possible.

Apple is out-shipping traditional PC vendors by a wide margin on the back of strong iPad sales, a marketing research firm has found.

In the fourth quarter, Apple became the leading worldwide client PC vendor by shipping more than 15 million iPads and 5 million Macs, representing 17 percent of the total 120 million client PCs shipped globally in the fourth quarter, according to Canalys.

Hewlett-Packard was a distant No. 2 with about 12.7 percent.

"We're going through the biggest shift the PC industry has seen in 20 years. It's very difficult to grow in the classic PC market when all of the growth is coming from iPads," Steve Brazier, CEO of Canalys, told CNET.

"For example, the Netbook category, which was all the rage a few years ago, has been decimated by iPads," he said. Netbooks are compact, 10-inch size laptops that run Windows.

"And that's a big problem for HP," he added.

Excluding tablets--what Canalys generically calls "pads"--the client PC market declined 0.4 percent, according to Canalys.

Among the other top five PC vendors, only Lenovo managed to increase its market share, by a relatively modest two points, Canalys said. Meanwhile, Apple had a six-point gain over the same quarter a year ago. HP, Acer, and Dell all lost market share.

And what about ultrabooks, which are expected to blunt the onslaught of tablets to some degree? "We expect ultrabook volumes to see limited adoption through the first half of 2012, before finally gaining momentum later in the year as price points decline and Intel launches a new line of processors and embarks on an aggressive marketing campaign," Canalys analyst Michael Kauh, said in a statement.

Numbers aside, Brazier said the real shocker may be the emergence of Amazon as a personal computing giant. "In five years, maybe less, a company like Amazon may be a bigger PC company than some of the top fives today. It's a fundamental shift so those who are in denial are in trouble."

And that's happening already. Amazon may have shipped more than 5 million Kindle Fire tablets in the fourth quarter. Combine the Fire with other Kindle devices and you have numbers that rival the top PC makers.