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Wednesday, January 12, 2011, 06:00 pm PT (09:00 pm ET)

Gartner: Apple takes 9.7% share in Q4, grows Mac sales by 23%

Gartner has released its own estimates on US and global PC markets for Q4 and 2010, which paint a slightly better picture for Apple and a slightly worse outlook for other PC makers, compared to its market research rival IDC. Both continue to ignore the iPad.

Like IDC's parallel report on the US and global PC markets, Gartner subtly cited the iPad as the reason of weak Q4 sales, but similarly included it among "media tablets," despite the iPad representing 95 percent of the "tablet market."

Gartner was unique in also attempting to blame the contracting US PC market on "other consumer electronic (CE) devices, such as game consoles," despite the fact that 2010 marked a year of notably sluggish games sales that prompted aggressive cuts in hardware prices that still did little to boost game console hardware sales.

Netbooks come and go

Like IDC, Gartner excluded Apple's iPad from its PCs sales, while continuing to count low end mini notebooks (aka netbooks). In 2008, Gartner said Acer and Asus both "had a strong focus and acted quickly in the mini-notebook segment," which at the time was representing huge growth potential in an otherwise weak market.

In 2009, Gartner reported that Acer's netbook sales had allowed it to claim over 60 percent growth in PC sales, with the firm predicting that netbooks would grow from 10 percent of all PCs sold to 12 percent in 2010.

Instead, growth of netbooks crashed last year as the iPad was introduced. That reversal in the PC market, usually attributed to iPad sales, was explained away in Gartner's most recent report as a shift toward replacement purchases in the "professional market."

This phrasing enabled Gartner to explain why netbook makers were "facing challenges" while premium priced vendors were growing rapidly, even while ignoring iPad sales and excluding them entirely from its PC sales figures.

iPad: the elephant in the corner

Under its published charts, Gartner notes that its "data includes desk-based PCs, mobile PCs, including mini-notebooks but not media tablet such as the iPad." Apple sells more iPads than all of its Macintosh computers combined, so including iPad tablets within PC sales would dramatically boost the company's market share at the expense of generic PC makers, much like the balloon of netbook sales from Acer and Asus skewed the PC market in 2008 and 2009.

Neither Gartner nor IDC have explained why they gerrymander their PC sales data to exclude the iPad, even as they count limited functionality netbooks, scramble to invent non-iPad explanations for contracting growth in the PC market outside of Apple's own sales, and describe Apple's tablet as part of a distinct "media tablet" market that simply does not exist.

Gartner previously invented arbitrary definitions of "smartphone" that excluded devices from some makers (notably Palm) in order to flatter sales of Windows Mobile, formerly included PC servers (but not competing servers using non-Intel chips) in its PC sales reports to flatter Microsoft, and more recently has invented tens of millions of devices it says are probably using Android in order to dramatically skew its modern reports on the smartphone industry and fulfill its own predictions on mobile platforms.

Being in the consumer market is either good or bad

Acer, Gartner's report said, "faced challenges in the fourth quarter of 2010 due to a slowdown in the overall consumer mobile PC market. The company was impacted by a weakening mini-notebook segment. Due to a lower presence in the professional PC market, Acer could not benefit from the professional PC refresh demand."

Dell, which Gartner ranked in third place worldwide behind Acer (in contrast to IDC), was the only PC maker in the top three to grow its global PC sales in the fourth quarter, albeit by just 3.9 percent. The firm attributed this growth to Dell benefiting "from professional PC refreshes across key regions," and noted that "Dell’s weaker presence in the consumer segment meant the company was not affected as much as some other vendors due to disappointing holiday sales."

Gartner said Lenovo "marked the strongest year-on-year growth among the top 5 vendors [globally]. Lenovo’s strength was derived from the replacement purchases in the professional PC market, as well as its on-going efforts of getting into the consumer market."

Global market Q4 2010

Global market 2010


Gartner's US PC sales worse than IDC reported, better than Gartner expected

In the US, Gartner reported a 6.6 percent decline in PC sales in Q4, worst than IDC's report of a 4.8 percent contraction but better than the 10 percent decline Gartner had predicted.

"US holiday sales were not fantastic for most PC vendors," wrote Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa, "but the professional market did show healthy growth during the quarter. Media tablets undoubtedly intensified the competition in the consumer market.

"These devices do not replace primary PCs, but they are viewed as good enough devices for these who want to have a second and third connected device for content consumption usage. Mini-notebook shipments were hit the most by the success of media tablets."

The report noted that "Gartner’s preliminary study shows that Toshiba and Apple were the only vendors in the top 5 to increase shipments [in the US market], as Toshiba’s shipments grew 14.4 percent, while Apple’s shipments increased 23.7 percent."

Like IDC, Gartner seemed to carefully avoid making any pointed observation of how Apple's iPad has shifted PC sales dramatically while doing nothing to slow Apple's own PC growth.

Ixnay on the padisay

Gartner's Kitagawa seemed careful not to use the word "iPad" within any direct quote in the report, using it only twice (apart from notes explaining that its PC sales numbers excluded the iPad), each time in the context of "media tablets, such as the iPad."

IDC's entire report only used the word "iPad" once, preferring instead to similarly use the phrase "media tablet" as a euphemism for iPad sales.

Gartner estimated that Apple sold 1.86 million Macs in the fourth quarter, assigning it 9.7 percent market share in the US. IDC's report gave Apple 8.7 percent of the US market in Q4, and described its Mac growth as being just 15.2 percent year over year.

US market Q4 2010