For those who call tablets personal computers, Apple Inc. is the world's top PC maker, according to research firm Canalys.
Canalys reported Wednesday that one in five PCs shipped in the fourth quarter of 2012 was an Apple device, and most of those were iPad tablets.
The researcher defines tablets as PCs,
Canalys said that worldwide PC shipments increased 12% compared to the year-earlier period, in last quarter, hitting 134 million units. Tablets accounted for about a third of those shipments, it said.
By Canalys' count, Apple is the top PC maker in the world, ahead of Hewlett-Packard, which is number one among those researchers that separate tablet computers and traditional desktop and laptop PCs.
Some analysts were critical of including PCs and tablets in the same category.
"I don't buy this. Tablets are not PCs," said Zeus Kerrevala, an analyst with ZK Research. "They have different purposes, different workloads. It's like trucks and cars. They both drive you places but they're designed for different workloads."
Whatever the definition, tablets have been hammering the PC business over over the past year or so. Some analysts note that limited funds available for IT technology have left enterprises putting off spending to update their PCs and instead buying less-expensive tablets and smartphones.
Jack Narcotta, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the Canalys report may not be off base because tablets, desktops and laptops are closely related in many ways.
"If you define a PC to be a device from which you access, read, compose and send email, browse the Web, play games, and stream music and movies, then, yes, I would buy into the assessment [that tablets are PCs]," he said. "The everyday usage the home computer on the desk or the notebook sitting on the coffee table used to see is transitioning to tablets. The form factor, not the function, is defining what a PC is."
Canalys did not respond to a request for comment on its decision to include tablets in the report on PC shipments.
Canalys said Apple shipped 27 million PC and tablet units in the fourth quarter, while HP shipped 15 million, 200,000 more than third-place Lenovo.
Apple held 20% of the PC market as defined by Canalys, while HP and Lenovo had 11% each.
Most of the PC market share reports don't include tablets, and list Dell as the third largest PC maker. The Canalys report lists Samsung, buoyed by tablet shipments, ahead of Dell, which is in fifth place. Samsung was said to ship 11.7 million PCs and tablets, and Dell shipped 9.7 million units.
Canalys also noted that Apple's tablet growth in the fourth quarter was largely driven by the demand for the iPad Mini, which accounted for more than half of the company's total tablet shipments.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.