Apple’s barnstorming 2011 finished with the firm being crowned the world’s largest client computing company. And with rivals struggling and consumers and, increasingly, businesses showing no signs of losing their appetite for all things Apple, market watchers indicate the vendor’s zenith could be still to come.
Recent figures from Canalys show the Mac maker has leapfrogged former leaders HP and Dell to the client top spot, being one of only two vendors to grow their market share in Q4 2011.
The analyst’s figures reveal that Apple shipped more than 15 million iPads and five million Macs during the quarter, representing 17 per cent of the total 120 million client PCs shipped globally. Apple grew its market by six points over the course of 2011.
Dell, Acer and HP all lost market share in the quarter, and HP is now in second place in the vendor rankings. The analyst predicts that, after canning its TouchPad tablet, the erstwhile leader may struggle to compete with the new top dog.
Tim Coulling, analyst at Canalys, said: “Currently HP is pursuing a Windows strategy for its [tablet] portfolio, producing enterprise-focused products such as the recently launched Slate 2, until the launch of Windows 8. However, questions remain over Microsoft’s entry into the consumer [tablet] space.”
Q4 PC figures from Gartner (which exclude tablets) find that Apple’s global success was replicated in this country. The vendor was the only one among the top five to display growth during the quarter, with shipments rising 17.2 per cent year on year to 267,000.
Its share of the UK market grew from 6.2 to 9.1 per cent during 2011 and it now occupies fourth spot in the manufacturer rankings. First-placed HP’s fourth-quarter UK shipments fell 27 per cent, while Dell, in second, endured a decline of 32 per cent.
Toshiba, in third, posted a more modest 5.4 per cent fall, while Acer concluded a wretched year with a staggering 62.4 per cent annual decline in shipments. Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, claimed that, with consumers and enterprises showing soft demand, the decline in public spending and the ongoing hard disk drive crisis, “everything is stacked against” the UK PC market this year. But Apple can continue to buck the downward trend, he predicted.
“Whether you are looking at the consumer side or the professional side, they are offering a different type of product which separates them, very clearly, from the generic Microsoft/Intel-based products,” said Atwal. “There is that integration with other devices, and they have other ways of delivering applications. It just gives them an edge. There is not another vendor that comes close to that.”
And it is in the B2B arena that the channel might be most able to cash in on the vendor’s huge success. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Apple, which has long had a slightly frosty relationship with the channel, might be starting to see a little more value in working with distributors and resellers.
In a statement Mike Farrah, commercial director of distribution partner Ingram Micro, said: “We believe that Apple increasingly recognises the benefits of working with Ingram Micro: our training and development programmes, the broad stockholding, fast turnaround time on complex solution quotations, the specialist solution support and the configuration and presales capabilities.”
Shaune Parsons, managing director of Computerworld Wales, indicated that tablets are in vogue among end users, but claimed he has not seen any rise in demand for Apple’s bigger form factors among his client base.
“We have resold a bit of Apple, which we have done via a distributor, but we tend not to get involved, as there is no margin in it,” he said. “We have seen a surge in demand for a product called ‘the iPad’. But the question is whether or not they mean the Apple product, or a tablet PC. All credit to Apple, it has become a [generic trademark], like Hoover.”
Apple grabs a slice of top channel talent
It is not just market share that Apple has been wresting from the grasp of its rivals of late, with the vendor also making a play for their channel executives.
Former HP PSG channel sales director Trevor Evans took on a similar role at Apple last month and, shortly afterwards, it was confirmed that Dixons Retail boss John Browett has also been poached by the vendor.
Browett (pictured), who has been handed the role of senior vice president of US retail at Apple, is set to leave Dixons on 20 April, and will step down from the board of directors later this month.
In a statement, Browett paid homage to the rest of the Dixons Retail management team, claiming it had made excellent progress in establishing the group as a leader in the consumer electronics retail market.
He added: "The opportunity ahead of me is an exciting one and I leave knowing that the group has a bright future under strong leadership."
Speaking to ChannelWeb, Apple channel consultant Robert Peckham welcomed the new appointments and described Browett as the "Steve Jobs of Dixons Retail".
"Browett is a genius, a visionary and a gifted leader, and full marks to Apple for grabbing him," said Peckham.
"I believe the reason PC World is faring better than many of the other electrical retailers at the moment is entirely down to him."
Meanwhile, Mark Needham, founder of distributor Widget, said Browett had done an excellent job of turning around Dixons' high street brands during his tenure.
"Currys and PC World are much more attractive places to shop than [they were] five years ago. Turnover was down over Christmas, but it fell less than at competitors such as Comet or Game," said Needham in a ChannelWeb blog post.
"Although Amazon is hot on its tail, Dixons is still the largest retailer of electronics in the UK, and the stores which John Browett leaves to his successors are better than the ones he took over."
Record results achieved in Q1
With cash reserves heading for $100bn (£63bn) and total assets of nearly $140bn, Apple is already worth more than many of its main rivals combined.
The vendor has been adding cash to its reserves for many quarters, including an eye-watering $20bn in 2010, more than double the amount in 2009. In fact, last summer it was revealed the company had more cash reserves than the US government.
And judging by its recent record results for the first quarter of FY 2012, the trend is set to continue.
For the quarter ended 31 December 2011, Apple posted revenue of $46.3bn and net profit of $13bn, compared with $26.7bn revenue and $6bn profit a year ago.
The behemoth saw iPhone sales grow by 128 per cent in the quarter, iPad sales grow 111 per cent and Mac sales 26 per cent.
Many industry watchers wondered if Apple's star would begin to wane with the sad loss of co-founder Steve Jobs last October, but new chief executive Tim Cook certainly appears to be steering the firm in the right direction.
In a statement on the Q1 results, Cook said: "We are thrilled with our outstanding results and record-breaking sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs. Apple's momentum is incredibly strong and we have some amazing new products in the pipeline."
The vendor said it expects Q2 revenue to be about $32.5bn.
Samsung and Apple battle for smartphone crown
A dogfight took place at the top of the smartphone league table as Apple wrested
first place from rival Samsung in the fourth quarter of 2011.
The latest figures from market watcher IHS iSuppli also crowned Samsung king of the smartphone market for the whole year - the first time the South Korean giant has taken the title.
IHS iSuppli's figures also demonstrate a step up in the battle between the rival Apple iOS and Google Android operating systems. For Q4 Apple shipped 37 million
smartphones globally, up 117 per cent from 17 million in the second quarter. Samsung was close behind with 36 million.
On a good day, Apple seems to tolerate the channel. On a bad day, the vendor seems determined to disdain anyone with the temerity to want to resell its products. As journalists, we can attest to the difficulty of getting any certified partner to offer an opinion on Apple - whether good, bad or indifferent - without fear of rebuke.
But, like Dell before it, Apple is showing the earliest signs of wanting to court the channel. The difference between the two firms is that Dell came, in contrition, as it fought to stem the tide of declining market share.
Apple's products are loved and revered, its market share growth shows no signs of abating and, as a company, it is rich beyond even Roman Abramovich's wildest dreams. It can, and will, come to resellers on its own terms, and will surely continue to keep them on a tight leash.
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