Apple iPad surge hits PC shipments

Worldwide personal computer shipments grew less than expected in the fourth quarter, largely due to a surge in purchases of Apple’s iPad, which is spreading to new markets.

Researchers IDC and Gartner, in separate reports issued on Wednesday, said total shipments were less than previous projections.

They also warned that the PC market would come under pressure as consumers turned to tablets, game consoles, smartphones and other devices rather than replace home and portable computers.

Neither company defined the iPad and its growing number of rivals as PCs, although many users perform the same functions on the gadgets. If tablets were considered PCs, the overall market would be showing tremendous growth, with IDC estimating a 19 per cent gain in volume from 2009 to 2010.

IDC also estimated that manufacturers shipped about 17m tablets in 2010, the vast majority of them from Apple.

With an array of competitors entering the market and a second-generation iPad in the works, IDC analyst Jay Chou expected the number to reach 44m in 2011, on top of the 385m PCs.

IDC said worldwide shipments of PCs increased a modest 2.7 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, instead of the 5.5 per cent gain predicted.

Gartner said growth slowed to 3.1 per cent in the latest quarter, not the 4.8 per cent anticipated.

“Media tablets such as the iPad, as well as other consumer electronic devices such as game consoles, all competed against PCs,” said Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner analyst.

Between 90m and 93m PCs were shipped in the past three months of 2010, more than in any previous quarter.

Economic recovery pushed sales for the year up 14 per cent to between 346m and 351m units. US sales declined 6.6 per cent in the fourth quarter, according to Gartner, which said it was a less severe drop-off than had been expected. The region including Europe showed a 6.2 per cent increase, with Asia shipments rising 4.1 per cent.

Researchers said their 2011 projections for PCs may be reduced in part because of the popularity in tablets. The uncertain US employment outlook and inflation in China are also putting pressure on the PC makers, Mr Chou said.

Samsung, Motorola, and Research in Motion are bringing out their own versions of a tablet computer.

In another sign of growing power in the new category, Microsoft this month said it would make a version of Windows to run on mobile chips based on designs by the UK’s ARM, which dominates the tablet world.

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