Apple's Mac shipments to enterprises rose sharply in the first quarter, with sales to both small and very large enterprises registering 90 percent and 94.7 percent growth, according to new data from Needham. Moreover, Mac sales to midsize businesses grew 58.1 percent, and sales to large enterprises rose 75.5 percent.
With many businesses poised to replace their older machines, Apple's Mac line appears well-positioned to continue racking up gains in the PC professional segment throughout 2011. Steady growth in the professional PC sector driven by replacement sales was the only bright spot for the global PC market during the first quarter, noted Mika Kitagawa, a principal analyst at Gartner.
"Without the professional segment growth, the PC market could have experienced one of the worst declines in its recent history," Kitagawa said.
Replacement PC Trends
Apple CIO Tim Cook told investors last month that Apple's Mac sales worldwide were benefiting from the "halo effect" of the iPad as well as the popularity of Apple's other iconic mobile products. When asked whether this was opening doors for the Mac to be adopted by more chief information officers, Cook responded, "That's one reason we see the growth that we are seeing on the Mac."
Apple's Mac sales in the first quarter were fueled by the continued popularity of the MacBook Air, which was updated in the fourth quarter, Cook said. What's more, Apple's new MacBook Pro lineup offers twice the speed of the previous model and customer response has been excellent, he added.
At the end of the first quarter, Apple held 9.3 percent of the U.S. PC market -- up from 7.3 percent a year earlier. The company shipped 1.25 million Macs during the first three months of 2011 -- an 18.9 percent rise from the same period last year.
Needham analyst Charlie Wolf and other industry observers anticipate that Apple's Mac sales to businesses will keep growing during the remainder of this year. "Replacement sales [in the PC business segment] will generally continue into late 2011 or the start of 2012, with some variations between different regions and market segments," Kitagawa said.
Early NPD data for this year's June-ending quarter suggest that "Mac sales are tracking in line with street expectations in the range of 4.1 million to 4.3 million, or 18 percent to 24 percent year-over-year growth, [though] it is too early to make a call on the June quarter," wrote Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy in a note on May 16. "That is still our current opinion," Murphy confirmed in an e-mail Monday.
Weak Consumer Demand
Toshiba was the only top PC vendor other than Apple to realize year-over-year growth (10.9 percent) in the U.S. market during the first quarter. According to Kitagawa, however, Toshiba's major strength was in the consumer segment. The company's strategy of downplaying the mini-notebook market, which suffered a steep sales decline in the quarter, also helped elevate the PC maker's shipment numbers, she said.
"My assumption is that Toshiba laptops are priced slightly lower than competitor's laptops with the same configuration," Kitagawa said. "But the Toshiba brand is not recognized as a 'low price leader,' so consumers felt the slightly lower-priced Toshiba laptops [were a] good bargain."
By contrast, the top three PC makers in the U.S. all lost ground to varying degrees in comparison with prior-year results. Hewlett-Packard's PC shipments declined 3.5 percent year over year, Dell's PC sales fell 12.1 percent, and Acer's unit shipments slid 24.9 percent.
"Weak demand for consumer PCs was the biggest inhibitor of growth," Kitagawa said. "With the launch of the iPad 2 in February, more consumers either switched to buying an alternative device or simply held back from buying PCs."