Apple cracks top 5 global PC sellers list

Been there before, says IDC, but Mac price cuts and back-to-school sales helped it again edge Asus for the No. 5 spot

Apple cracked the top five of IDC's list of global personal computer makers for the third quarter, placing fifth by squeezing out Taiwan's Asus.

According to IDC, Apple sold nearly 5 million Macs in the September quarter, or 6.3% of the worldwide total. That number, if it holds, would represent year-over-year growth of about 9%.

In the U.S., Apple climbed from fourth place to third during the quarter, accounting for 13% of all shipments.

Apple has been in IDC's top five before, said Jay Chou, an analyst with the research firm. In the third quarter of 2013, IDC initially pegged Asus as the fifth-largest, but when the final numbers came in from Apple, the Cupertino, Calf. company had supplanted the Asian manufacturer.

Rival researcher Gartner, however, slotted Asus into the fifth slot in its estimates, which were also released yesterday. The discrepancy can be explained by the two firms' different ways of tallying shipments: While Gartner counts Windows tablets as personal computers, IDC does not.

"Asus sold a lot of Windows-based tablets," Chou said in an interview, noting the difference between IDC's and Gartner's figures.

Not everyone believes Apple sold that many Macs. Brian White, a financial analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald, for example, has pegged third-quarter sales at 4.85 million, which would be a 6% increase over the same period last year.

But virtually every expert expects Apple to post year-over-year gains, unlike the industry as a whole. IDC pegged the industry average as down about 2% for the third quarter; Gartner tagged global shipments as flat.

The PC business has been in its longest-ever contraction -- 10 quarters so far by IDC's count -- but Apple, which didn't escape the downturn unscathed -- experienced its fourth-consecutive positive quarter.

Chou attributed Apple's rebound to lower prices and the "halo" effect of its iPhone and iPad lines.

"Their price discounts helped in mature markets," said Chou, who pointed to strong back-to-school sales for Apple in the U.S.

Apple reduced the prices of its MacBook Air, the company's bestselling laptop, in April by between 7% and 10%, and a year ago, dropped MacBook Pro prices by up to 13%.

And the company launched a less expensive, less powerful iMac in June.

Chou also credited the Mac's popularity to the pull of its mobile devices. "They're attracting an ever-growing base each year," Chou said of the Mac. "It starts with the mobile devices, which get people into the stores."

Although Chou said the 1.7% contraction of the PC industry as a whole was less than the 3.7% downturn IDC had projected previously for the third quarter, he was hesitant to say that the business had reached rock bottom.

"Although shipments did not decline as much as feared, these preliminary results still show that 3Q14 was one of the weaker calendar third quarters on record in terms of sequential growth," Chou said in a statement IDC issued yesterday alongside its estimates.

He expanded on that in the interview, pointing out that it's unclear whether the PC industry will be able to sustain its climb out of the sales cellar once corporations wrap up their post-support-retirement replacements of Windows XP machines.

Chou said it was still unclear whether consumers could carry the market once the enterprise XP refresh cycle is over; while consumers may be buying more systems than last year, they are extremely price-sensitive and with the exception of Apple's Macs, have gravitated to the lowest-priced systems, such as Chromebooks and ultra-cheap Windows PCs.

Amazon's laptop bestseller list of Friday reflected that: Of the top 10 laptops, only four were priced above $300, and two of those were Macs, which don't play in that price space.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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