Apple on track to overtake HP -- Canalys

By Jonny Evans

"Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage."

Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe

Yet more signs confirm that Apple [AAPL] isn't just resurgent, but taking over, the latest Canalys data claims the company's set to eclipse HP to become the world's biggest PC vendor "in 2012". That's if you include iPad sales.

[ABOVE: This is how Steve Jobs would brainstorm with his NeXT software teams.]

2012: Apple's first place Odyssey

Canalys expects Apple to become the leading global PC vendor before the second half of 2012, citing the success at least in part to the hot-selling iPad. iPad sales in combination with PC sales already put Apple in the number two slot, according to the analysts.

"Apple has seen its PC market share expand from 9 percent to 15 percent in just four quarters, though iPad shipments in its core market –- the United States –- are likely to come under pressure in Q4 due to the launch of the Fire and Nook at extremely competitive price points," said Canalys Analyst Tim Coulling.

"HP and Apple will fight for top position in Q4, but Apple may have to wait for the release of iPad 3 before it passes HP."

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Get ready for smackdown

As we discussed this weekend, there's some expectation Apple may debut its iPad 3 from March; with an iPhone 5 (featuring LTE and possible NFC support) often imagined as shipping next summer.

The analysts strike to the heart of the problem being felt by Apple's foes: component prices and the impossible challenge of matching iPad prices with competing devices.

"Vendors overall though are struggling to compete profitably with Apple, as many toil to produce comparable devices at attractive prices," they said.

A separate Digitimes report confirms my belief that piles of Android-based tablets are cluttering up distribution channels. Millions of units of unsold stock, all of which seem likely to be made available next year at fire sale prices.

Coming soon, Android v Windows

Android 4 may not be enough to stimulate the Google tablet business: It seems many PC manufacturers will migrate to offering Windows 8-based tablets next year. And as reported last week, many major brands are quitting the sector altogether.

Canalys concede the release of Android 4.0 could help boost non-iPad sales, but those Android tablets that are in the market this holiday season run an older OS, and manufacturers have a track record of being slow to provide Android OS upgrades.

That's a space that seems ever more fragmented as a result -- when is an Android not an Android? Just how much operating system expertise must a consumer acquire in order to choose an Android tablet? Can't it "just work"?

Android's patchy support for proxy servers renders it unsuitable for many enterprise users. That's probably why Apple's iPhone has raced past RIM's BlackBerry to become the smart device of choice among mobile workers in enterprise markets. And as we know, once the enterprise has its iPhone apps, it will also become even more receptive to deploying these on the iPad -- and then the Mac.

[ABOVE: A treat for Apple history fans, here's Steve Jobs demonstrating NeXT.]

Advantage, Mac

Ah yes, the Mac, and more especially that other string to Apple's multi-faceted mobile solutions bow: the ultrabook. The MacBook Air is Apple's strong offering in this sector, but others continue to struggle to make a dent, and once again, price matters.

"For Ultrabooks to become widespread, prices have to drop considerably," said Canalys Research Analyst Michael Kauh. "The least expensive models are currently around $800, a real barrier to mass consumer uptake. As more vendors embrace the Ultrabook design, component costs should drop and mainstream consumer prices will be achieved."

The outlook isn't great and this isn't just about pricing: the analysts also warn that the Western European PC market will see a 6 percent decline, with the US PC market growing at just 1 percent (without iPads) or 18 percent (if you include tablets).

The conclusion?

Even in a weakening market, Apple continues to gather force. While PC players panic in the face of market decline, Apple sticks to its guns to offer solutions which, because they are recognized as best in class, continue to attract consumers and enterprise users alike.

Apple's Steve Jobs left his firm with a multi-year product development road map; unfortunately, in his absence, competitors seem increasingly unaware of who to emulate for a little inspiration.

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