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Tuesday, May 01, 2012, 02:12 pm PT (05:12 pm ET)

HP regains crown from Apple as world's top PC maker

Four months after being ousted by Apple, HP reclaimed the top spot in the client PC market in the first quarter of 2012, eking out a 40,000 unit lead over the iPad maker.

The latest figures posted by market research firm Canalys on Tuesday include shipments of Apple's iPad, though the company's tablet-inclusive numbers slipped in the April quarter while HP's numbers remained relatively steady.

The firm explains that Apple's previous lead was based largely on fourth quarter 2011 tablet shipments, which amounted to over 15 million units. After the holiday season, iPad shipments fell to 11.8 million units in the first quarter of 2012, bringing the company's total PC number to 15.8 million.

Lenovo saw 50 percent year-to-year growth to claim third place as the total PC client market grew 21% to 107 million units. Acer and Dell rounded out the top five, though both companies suffered shipment declines from the year ago quarter.

The tablet sector enjoyed a 200 percent year-on-year increase in shipments, lead mainly by Apple's iPad, and represented 19 percent of all PC client shipments in the first quarter compared to 7 percent a year ago.

Notebook and desktop exhibited growth, rising 11 percent and 8 percent respectively. Netbook shipments contracted 34 percent to take only 5 percent of the total PC market compared to a high of 13 percent two years ago, the sixth successive drop for the sector.

"Most of the leading PC vendors have done a reasonable job of offsetting the declines in their netbook shipments over the past year with increased pad business," said Canalys Research Analyst Tom Evans. "Samsung and Lenovo are two that stand out in terms of substantially increasing overall volume, though Asus has performed well too. The challenge is breaking out into the really big volumes to challenge the leaders – Apple and Amazon. So far, only Samsung has shown it can routinely ship more than a million pads a quarter."

Breaking down the numbers by region, North America showed the most growth with a 31 percent year-on-year bump fueled mainly by tablet shipments. EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and Asia both posted 19 percent increases while Latin America came in with a 10 percent growth rate.

"If you look at the US, pads are approaching 40% of all client PC shipments," said Canalys VP and Principal Analyst, Chris Jones. "The rest of the market here was down slightly in Q1. The pad proposition for US consumers is very strong – thanks to the wider choice in content and apps – and the impact on the other categories is more severe."

PC makers are looking forward to the opportunity offered by the thin-and-light ultrabook market which is being highly touted by chip maker Intel. The devices are slated to start mass shipments in the second quarter of 2012 and will sport Microsoft's next-generation Windows 8 OS.

Apple is also expected to release a revamped lineup of MacBook Pros that are rumored to be similar in design to the company's popular MacBook Air notebooks. Canalys previously estimated that combined iPad and Mac sales would make Apple the world's largest PC vendor in 2012.