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It's official: Apple off top five

A research firm confirms that Apple Computer was knocked off of the list of the top-five worldwide PC vendors in the first quarter of this year.

Apple Computer was knocked off of the list of top-five worldwide PC vendors in the first quarter of this year for the first time in several years, research company Dataquest officially confirmed today.

In the U.S. market, shipments of Mac clones picked up while Apple's shipments were down almost 32 percent from the previous quarter, highlighting both the importance of clone vendors in propping up demand for the Mac OS and the problem they pose for Apple.

Power Computing posted the most significant gains, having increased shipments 31.6 percent over the fourth quarter. Taken together, Motorola, Umax Computing, Power Computing, and other vendors now have 30.2 percent of the Mac OS market to Apple's 69.8 percent. This compares to Apple's 89.7 percent in the first quarter of 1996, when the only other clone vendor was Power Computing.

Still, compared to the overall U.S. market for PC systems, including Windows-based systems, the Mac OS market share shrank by 10.6 percent from the fourth quarter of 1996 to 5.9 percent overall. Dataquest's survey tracks both retail and direct channel vendors. The success of the clone vendors during Apple's trials has again raised the specter of market share cannibalization.

"There's no evidence that the clone vendors are growing the Mac market. That doesn't mean they aren't," says James Staten, an analyst with market research firm Dataquest, but he is skeptical.

Staten says he is mainly looking for evidence of customers saying they are replacing Windows or Unix products with Macs as evidence clone vendors are growing the market, but that doesn't appear to be happening. The other way for clone vendors to grow the market would be to expand sales in overseas markets, but they don't appear to have made a significant impact yet, according to Staten.

"Apple had some back-order problems last quarter. We believe they could've shipped approximately 50,000 more units, and the market wouldn't have been as flat as it was," says Staten. The backlog was due to parts shortages affecting the new Power Macintosh 8600 and 9600s, he says. Another factor in the drop was that the newly introduced PowerBook 3400s weren't available in quantity until the last month of the quarter.

While some studies that track the retail channel only have indicated that the Mac OS market share in the United States is growing faster than the overall market, second-quarter results might tell another story. If the inventory shipped to dealers doesn't sell through as some industry insiders predict, shipments might drop dramatically, reversing the apparent market share gains.