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2010 PC growth sees slowdown, tablet cannibalization

Despite growth during the fourth quarter, research firms IDC and Gartner say that tablets and other consumer electronics can be blamed for a slowdown in PC purchases overall.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
A Lenovo laptop

Following its modest growth last quarter, the PC market saw its strongest quarter of the year, while managing to miss the expectations of research firms IDC and Gartner.

According to the Quarterly PC Tracker Survey released today by IDC, overall worldwide PC shipments grew 2.7 percent year-on-year during the fourth quarter, with Gartner reporting a slightly larger 3.1 percent as part of its quarterly report. Both numbers missed the firms' expectations, which IDC had predicted at 5.5 percent and Gartner at 4.8 percent.

IDC said that one of the big reasons for the "modest" gains centered around PCs getting competition from tablets like Apple's iPad, as well as people being happy with computer hardware they already own. That trend is expected to continue into the new year, the report said. Gartner had similar sentiments, pointing to the iPad, along with other consumer electronics like game consoles cutting into the PC's turf.

There were, however, some standout numbers and market share changes among the top hardware vendors. Making a comeback, IDC had Dell bouncing back to the No. 2 spot in total PC shipments during the fourth quarter, ousting Acer, whose drop IDC attributed to poor sales of mini notebook PCs. Gartner, on the other hand, kept Dell in No. 3, putting it about 1 percent below Acer in terms of its fourth quarter market share and praising its timing on refreshing its lineup of professional PCs.

The reigning king of market share and overall shipments among the top five PC makers during both the year and the quarter, continued to be Hewlett-Packard. Even so, IDC said HP had 5 percent decline in shipments in the U.S. and 1 percent worldwide. Gartner painted a similar picture, saying the company's professional business had grown, as had its sales in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. However, "weak" consumer PC sales in the U.S. as well as difficulty breaking the Asia/Pacific region had offset the company's growth.

Shining above some of its competitors, Lenovo saw a 21.1 percent year-on-year growth worldwide, which IDC analyst Jay Chou told CNET could be attributed to the company's reach in both consumer and commercial businesses. Chou also lauded Lenovo's business as being "geographically balanced." Toshiba too saw double-digit growth, shipping 12 percent more PCs than it did during the same time last year, according to IDC.

Apple, which is recorded as part of Gartner's U.S. vendor report, came in just under Toshiba in terms of fourth-quarter shipments, though bested it and all the rest of the companies on year-on-year growth at 23.7 percent. In fact, Toshiba and Apple were the only two vendors in Gartner's top 5 to increase shipments in the U.S. year-on-year.

Going into 2011, Chou says that "consumer fatigue" for products like mini notebooks, along with "softening demand in Asia" and other parts of the world could cut into the firm's predictions for a growth of 10 percent over the course of the year. But that "aggressive competition" could bring the market back up in the last two quarters. That softening demand Chou was referring to is the Asia/Pacific region (which does not include Japan), increasing 7 percent during the fourth quarter, which IDC notes is the first single digit growth quarter since the first quarter of 2009.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. PDT to include data from Gartner, as well as data infographic below.

Fourth quarter 2010 PC vendor shipments.
Fourth quarter 2010 PC vendor shipments. (click to enlarge) IDC/Gartner/CNET