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iPad 3 could make Apple the world's top PC vendor next year

Apple should overtake HP as the top global PC vendor next year, according to Canalys, but that assumes the iPad is counted as a PC.

Apple's iPad
James Martin/CNET

Apple is likely to outshine Hewlett-Packard as the world's top PC maker before the second half of next year, says research firm Canalys, but it'll need some help from the iPad 3.

Currently the world's second-leading PC vendor, Apple has seen its share of the market jump to 15 percent from 9 percent over just the past year. That growth is largely due to heavy demand for the iPad, which Canalys considers a personal computer.

But fourth-quarter iPad shipments in the U.S. may take a hit from Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook tablets, which are launching at consumer-friendly prices. As a result, Canalys believes that HP and Apple will duke it out for the top spot this quarter but that Apple will ultimately grab the lead after the iPad 3 debuts next year.

Rival tablet makers are still fighting to compete with Apple, with many starting to get the hint by selling devices at cheaper prices. The debut of Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, should help Android vendors as developers can finally push their existing smartphone apps to run on tablets. But the timing of updated Android operating system is less than ideal, says Canalys.

Most tablets being sold during the holiday-shopping season will still sport some version of Android 3.x. And Android hasn't been known for a speedy upgrade cycle. Savvy consumers waiting for devices equipped with Ice Cream Sandwich may actually put off purchases until next year when the newest version of Android becomes more prevalent.

For 2011, global PC shipments are expected to reach 415 million, a 15 percent gain from last year, thanks mostly to higher tablet sales. Total tablet shipments are expected to hit 59 million for the entire year, including 22 million in the fourth quarter, says Canalys.

Notebook sales have also provided a boost to the PC market this year, with total shipments projected to reach 211 million, a 10 percent gain from last year. Ultrabooks, which are thin, light, high-powered laptops, could spur notebooks sales over the next five years. But Canalys believes prices would have to creep down sharply.

"The least expensive models are currently around $800, a real barrier to mass consumer uptake," Canalys analyst Michael Kauh said in a statement. "As more vendors embrace the ultrabook design, component costs should drop and mainstream consumer prices will be achieved."