Apple bucked the U.S. trend last quarter by posting double-digit Mac sales gains as PC giants like HP and Dell lost share, industry research firms said Wednesday.
However, Apple dropped to the fifth spot in U.S. computer sales during the final quarter of 2010 as strong sales to businesses by rivals pushed it two places down the list.
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Both Gartner and IDC had Apple in the No. 5 position for the fourth quarter, behind Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer, and Toshiba.
Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa explained Apple's slip -- in the third quarter Apple had the No. 3 spot -- by citing robust sales of PCs to businesses, a market where Apple historically lags far behind behemoths like HP and Dell.
"The professional market showed healthy growth during the quarter," Kitagawa said.
IDC called out weak consumer PC sales in the U.S. too, with analyst Jay Chou citing "consumer fatigue" in many markets, including America, as interest in netbooks waned and consumers closely watched what they spent.
The shift toward business sales hurt Apple's placing in the top five lists, but that didn't prevent the company from posting solid sales figures.
According to Gartner, Apple sold 1.9 million Mac desktops and laptops during the fourth quarter to snare 9.7 percent of the U.S. market. IDC pegged U.S. Mac sales at 1.7 million, giving Apple an 8.7 percent share.
But Apple beat the U.S. industry average growth rate by huge margins, showing as it did during the heart of the recession that it can weather soft consumer spending trends better than any other computer maker.
Apple's sales for the fourth quarter were 23.7 percent higher than in the same quarter of 2009, said Gartner, while IDC had Apple's year-over-year increase at 15.2 percent. Those numbers trumped the industry average growth rate, which dropped into negative numbers in both research company's assessment. Gartner said the U.S. market fell by 6.6 percent, while IDC called the decline 4.8 percent.
Of the top five U.S. computer sellers, only Apple and Toshiba posted postitive year-on-year gains.
Acer's drop was the most precipitous of the top five manufacturers, plunging 30.4 percent in Gartner's results, 28.5 percent in IDC's.
Apple has failed just once since 2003 to grow Mac year-over-year sales faster than the industry average.
Both Gartner and IDC also pointed out that U.S. consumer PC sales have been disrupted by tablets, a market that Apple currently controls with its iPad. "Consumers didn't want to spend the money for PCs," said Kitagawa of fourth quarter sales. "They have so many more choices, including media tablets."