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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

October 13, 2010 at 1:29 PM

Back-to-school PC sales up, but not as much as expected

The big PC tracking firms are releasing their third-quarter reports today, showing how computer sales fared during the back-to-school season and hinting at the iPad’s effect on computer sales.

IDC was first with a report, showing an 11 percent increase in PC sales during the quarter, about 3 percent lower than it had predicted.

Gartner followed shortly, saying it saw a 7.6 percent gain in PC sales, below its 12.7 percent forecast.

Both said consumers were being more careful with their spending during what’s usually a big season for PC sales. But IDC said businesses are upgrading their PCs “largely on schedule.”

PC sales in Japan were especially strong, while U.S. sales were dramatically lower than the forecast — up 3.8 percent vs. IDC’s expectations of an 11 percent gain.

The quarter started off slow but ended strong, perhaps boding well for a big holiday, IDC analyst Jay Chou said in the release. He said lower PC component prices and “budding excitement around new media-centric form factors and continued business buying should still make for a competitive holiday season.”

Apple’s iPad isn’t counted as a PC but was mentioned as having “some negative impact” on netbook sales. A “halo effect” from the device also helped Mac sales, according to IDC vice president, Bob O’Donnell.

Gartner’s Mikako Kitagawa said consumer demand for mobile PCs slowed after very strong growth the past two years. She said in the release that “media hype” around devices such as the iPad has affected consumer laptop sales not by replacing primary PCs, but by creating uncertainty and delay.

“At this stage, hype around media tablets has led consumers and the channels to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to buying a new device,” she said.

The reports come a day after Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini commented on the iPad challenge during his company’s strong earnings report Tuesday.

Otellini said “some small fraction” of iPad sales may be “taking money away from something else.” But the sales “are relatively small in the grand scheme of the ship rate of the PC, notebook, netbook businesses. We are north of 70 million units a quarter now and growing a few percent a quarter even in this timeframe,” according to a transcript of the earnings call.

Globally, HP held on to its position as the largest PC vendor with 15.8 million units sold in the quarter, down 0.1 percent, according to IDC. Lenovo and Asus had blowout quarters, increasing year-over-year sales by 32.9 percent and 30.5 percent.

Lenovo sold 9.2 million PCs, up from 6.9 million the year before, IDC said. Gartner’s numbers were about the same for Lenovo and a bit lower for Asus.

In the U.S., HP and Dell held the lead, selling 4.6 million and 4.4 million units, respectively, according to IDC.

Apple’s 24 percent increase in Mac sales put it just ahead of Acer in third place — selling 1,999,000 units vs. Acer’s 1,949,000 units, according to IDC.

Gartner reported a 13.7 percent gain for Apple, with 1.8 million units sold. Its report put Apple in fourth place in the U.S., behind HP, Dell and Acer.

Attention given the iPad helped Apple during the quarter, but so did updates to its iMac and Mac Pro line, Kitagawa said.

Her take on slower back-to-school sales of PCs:

“The weak back-to-school sales were not because students held off on PC purchases, but because nonstudent buyers, who normally are lured by massive back-to-school promotions, stayed away from PC purchases. These buyers were influenced by media tablet introductions, as well as the still-gloomy economy, since these buyers do not have an immediate need to purchase a PC.”

Comments | Topics: PCs

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