The iPad's massive success saw Apple leap into third spot in the global systems market in Q4 2010, with competitors warned that they ignore tablets at their peril.
But analyst Canalys tempered news of robust market growth with a warning that excess inventory and the rise in VAT could see UK resellers dragged into a price war during 2011's opening quarter. An upcoming Intel refresh will also feed into "significant retail discounting", claimed the market watcher.
The business-to-business market appears in better shape, but the outlook for public sector-focused resellers is also bleak. Big systems and services houses are warned to expect a frosty year.
Canalys analyst Tim Coulling said: "The performance of the corporate market contrasts starkly with the decline in public sector expenditure in most western countries. The big service-led companies, which profited greatly from huge government-led contracts, are in for a tough 2011."
Canalys figures reveal 105.8 million PCs were shipped globally in Q4, a rise of 19.2 per cent on the corresponding period in 2009. The analyst claims the better part of this growth was fuelled by 'pads' – a newly defined product category incorporating devices such as the iPad (pictured) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Senior analyst Daryl Chiam argued that pads should now be considered an intrinsic part of the PC market and urged all incumbent manufacturers to take stock.
"Pads gave the market momentum in 2010, just as netbooks did the year before," he added. "We are encouraging vendors to plan for the future and not remain stuck in the past.
"Any argument that a pad is not a PC is simply out of sync. With screen sizes of seven inches or above, ample processing power and a growing number of applications, pads offer a computing experience comparable to netbooks. They compete for the same customers and will happily coexist."
Leading manufacturers HP and Acer both suffered year-on-year market share declines in Q4. But the Taiwanese firm enjoyed stronger sales growth and narrowed the US giant's lead by 1.6 points.
HP's shipments increased 2.9 per cent annually to 18.7 million, giving it a 17.7 per cent slice of the market. Acer, meanwhile, shipped 13.6 million systems – a rise of 8.8 per cent. Its market share stood at 12.8 per cent.
Apple soared from outside the top five to take third spot in Q4, with shipments more than trebling annually to 11.5 million and market share up seven points to 10.8 per cent. Dell, the world's leading PC maker just a few years ago, is now a distant fourth. The Texan manufacturer shipped 11.4 million units in Q4, a rise of 10.6 per cent.
Lenovo completed the top five, and the Chinese vendor enjoyed a fine quarter. Shipments rose 22.3 per cent year on year to 9.6 million, and the market was up three-tenths of a point to 9.1 per cent.
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