Gartner: Mini-laptops keep PC market from sinking

Buyers looking for cheap, low-powered notebooks bolster Q3 PC market

With the economy in turmoil, a lot of people who are looking to buy PCs are increasingly turning to cheap, low-power mini-laptops.

And that single move is bolstering what otherwise would be a soft PC industry, according to industry analysts at Gartner Inc. With a strong push from the new slew of mini-notebooks hitting the market, worldwide PC shipments reached 80.6 million units in the third quarter this year, marking a 15% increase from the third quarter of 2007.

"The mini-notebook segment experienced strong growth in the global PC [market], led by robust growth in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region," said Mika Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in a statement. "In the North America market, the economic crunch created more interest in the sub-$500 segment. ... At the same time, the global PC market finally felt the impact from the global economic downturn. The U.S. professional market experienced the biggest hit from the economic crunch. The U.S. home market saw definite softness in PC sales after a few quarters of strong growth."

A lot of PC makers are diving into the mini- or ultraportable laptop market.

In August, Lenovo took a run at the fledgling netbook market with a new ultraportable laptop. Scheduled to be available this month, the IdeaPad S10 has a starting price of $399.

Mini-laptops, increasingly known as netbooks, are relatively inexpensive, small-form-factor notebooks designed for basic applications, such as Web surfing, e-mailing and word processing. They're designed to use less power than traditional PCs and laptops and aren't robust enough for serious power users or gamers.

Intel Corp. announced earlier this year that it was betting heavily on the new market. In April, the chip maker began shipping Atom processors for mobile Internet devices -- small, almost pocket-size machines. Intel spokesman Chris Tulley said at the time that the company expects sales of netbook and "net-top" devices to outpace growth of traditional laptops and desktops.

Early in June, Acer Inc. dived into the mini-laptop market with the Aspire One netbook, which is designed to use Intel's Atom N270 chip. Acer's netbook runs either the Linpus Linux Lite operating system or Windows XP Home.

That move into the netbook market worked out well for Acer, according to Gartner's report. The analyst firm reported that both Acer and Asus "had a strong focus and acted quickly in the mini-notebook segment." Because of it, both PC makers saw strong third-quarter growth.

Gartner reported that Acer, which has scrambled into third place in the worldwide PC shipment market, saw 47.3% year-over-year growth in the third quarter, compared with 8.1% for fourth-place Lenovo, 15.1% for market leader Hewlett-Packard Co. and 11.6% for second-place Dell Inc.

Gartner reports that HP was hurt by its slow entry into the netbook market. Dell, which maintained its top position in the U.S. market, was hit by the general weakness in both the enterprise and home markets.

According to Gartner, in the U.S. market, HP comes in behind Dell, while Apple takes the third spot. Acer is in fourth place, and Toshiba rounds out the top five.

PC shipments in the U.S. market grew 4.6% in the third quarter of 2008 compared with the same time last year. Gartner also reported that mini-notebook shipments accounted for about 5% of U.S. mobile PC shipments and added one to two percentage points of year-over-year growth.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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