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Apple's iPad 3 could make it the #1 PC maker in 2012

by Tom Dunlap

November 22 2011

Could Apple soon pull off what was unthinkable five years ago and overtake HP as the No. 1 global PC vendor? If you include iPads in the count, the answer will probably be yes in 2012, says British Research firm Canalys.

For long-time Apple watchers, Canalys' report is a stunning prediction for a company that almost went out of business 15 years ago.

Two years ago, it would have been unheard of to lump tablets in with traditional desktop PCs when calculating global market share. But the impact of these devices, the iPad in particular, have radically changed the dynamics of the PC industry this year. Partially as a result of this disruption, they are more readily being counted as PCs. (Which makes sense because PC = personal computer.)

If aggregated into the overall PC count, iPad has already propelled Apple to second place in the worldwide PC market in the third quarter of 2011, according to Canalys. The research firm estimates full-year 2011 global PC shipments to reach 415 million, up 15 percent year-on-year, thanks mostly to booming tablet sales.

Overtaking HP in total shipments will depend on what happens with iPad 3, Canalys said.

“Apple has seen its PC market share expand from 9% to 15% 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.”

Total tablet shipments are expected to reach 59 million units by the end of 2011, with Q4 volumes predicted to surpass 22 million. While the Cupertino giant will again dominate in the fourth quarter, the recently announced Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are expected to make major inroads.

Tablet makers overall are struggling to compete with the iPad. Canalys writes that the release of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich should, however, bolster many tablet makers, because combining smartphone and tablet operating systems will enable developers to adapt existing apps to run on tablets.

On a regional level, Canalys forecasts North America PC shipments to reach 103 million for 2011, with 32 million units expected in Q4. Overall volumes in 2011 are anticipated to grow 18 percent year-on-year because of the ongoing popularity of tablets. Excluding tablets, the market is predicted to grow at less than 1% for the year.

Canalys anticipates the EMEA PC market – excluding tablets – to contract in 2011 at an annual rate of 6 percent, although volumes will peak for the year at 30 million in the fourth quarter. Western Europe is largely responsible for the regional decline because of concerns over debt issues in the Euro Zone.

Apple has confirmed neither the release of the iPad 3 nor a release date, although analysts expect the company's third tablet to ship in spring of 2012.

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