Analysts: PC Shipments Bounce Back in Q4, But Apple Losing Share

Both research firms see PCs bouncing back. Overall, worldwide PC shipments topped 90 million units in the fourth quarter, which was up 22.1 percent from the same quarter a year earlier, according to Gartner.

In the U.S., Gartner has PC shipments at 19.8 million in the quarter, a 26.5 percent increase year-over-year. According to Gartner, that makes the fourth quarter of 2009 the highest period of quarter-over-quarter growth in PC shipments in the U.S. in seven years.

"Shipment growth was largely driven by low-priced consumer mobile PCs, both in regular notebooks and mini-notebooks," said Mikako Kitagawa, a principal analyst at Gartner, in a statement. "As economic weakness continued, buyers became extremely price sensitive. Low-priced PCs were good enough for many average consumers."

HP remained at the top position for worldwide shipments, Gartner said, and passed Dell in the fourth quarter to become the No. 1 vendor in U.S. shipments. Gartner attributed that to HP's strength with retailers and competitive pricing, and Dell losing out on price battles in the retail space and staying weak among large enterprises.

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IDC's overall numbers weren't dissimilar, with the researcher tracking U.S. PC sales at 20.7 million for the quarter. IDC also estimated Apple sold 1.52 million Macs in the U.S. during the quarter, for a 7.4 percent market share.

Gartner's estimate for Mac sales was 1.48 million, at a share of 7.5 percent. Both estimates saw Apple losing share from the third quarter, which Gartner had at 8.8 percent and IDC at 9.4 percent.

A number of other PC vendors -- especially Toshiba, which according to Gartner was up 71 percent in unit sales -- also had success with price cuts. Apple's failure to drop prices during the quarter definitely hurt its sales, IDC said.

"The U.S. market exploded in the fourth quarter," said IDC research manager David Daoud in a statement. "The vendors responded with new low price points to stimulate demand and face competition."

The launch of Microsoft's Windows 7 didn't itself catalyze PC demand, argued Gartner, but was a good marketing hook for PC sales. Sales from HP, Toshiba and Acer also were driven by low-end notebooks and netbooks. That Apple didn't have a comparable low-end offering definitely weakened its sales, Gartner said.

Apple is scheduled to reveal official sales figures Jan. 25 during a conference call with analysts.