Two separate studies have been released ranking sales of computers in the U.S., and both agree that Apple (s aapl) has fallen one place compared to results from the same quarter last year. In both studies, one of which comes from research firm IDC and one of which comes from Gartner, Apple placed fourth in Q4 2008 results, and had dropped to fifth during the Q4 2009 period.
IDC found that Mac sales in the U.S. had climbed by 31 percent compared to last year, but that despite that strong growth, sales hadn’t kept up with increases in the industry at large. Cheap Windows machines helped create a banner year for the PC side of things. Gartner came up with slightly less impressive numbers for Apple during the quarter, with a growth rate of 23 percent.
That’s quite a difference, and represents a 40,000 machine gap between the figures found by the two companies. It’s a large enough gap to affect whether Apple falls under or above the average gain among all companies listed in the rankings. By comparison, PC makers HP (s hpq) and Toshiba had incredibly strong years, growing sales by 45 percent and 71 percent respectively.
In a quote from Computerworld, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa explains what Apple’s doing wrong to miss out on the promising industry numbers, and its a tune we’ve all heard before:
The U.S. market last quarter continued to be very price driven. If a company is not in the low-priced market, it’s absolutely difficult for it to increase market share. And Apple did not do as well as others in share because of its prices.
Netbooks and cheap laptops are flying off the shelves, in other words. That being the case, the growth numbers might not mean as much to Apple as they might otherwise. If companies like Toshiba and HP are making their gains on the backs of underpowered machines of questionable build quality, and ones that might also have lower profit margins than Apple’s line, then it might not be growth that Cupertino is interested in. I maintain that we’ve yet to see the fallout of selling so many cheap machines so quickly. Wait a couple years till they start showing significant failure rates, then we’ll see how long-term growth is affected.
The general recovery of the PC industry is good news for Apple, though, even if it didn’t reap as many of the direct benefits as some of its rivals. The bottom line is that people are once again willing to spend money on consumer electronics, and computing devices specifically. The climate is a much better one in which to introduce a tablet than it has been in recent memory.