Move over Hewlett-Packard, and move over desktops and notebooks. If tablets are counted, Apple is now the leading computer vendor in the world.
According to industry research firm Canalys, Apple's 15 million iPads and 5 million Macs shipped globally in the fourth quarter represent 17 percent of the total 120 million personal computing devices.
Tablets were 22 percent of all PC shipments, including Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet. The entire PC market, which includes netbooks, grew by 16 percent compared with a year ago.
HP and Tablets
The Canalys report also indicated the importance of tablets to the overall computer market. If tablets are excluded, PC shipments actually dropped by 0.4 percent. One reason: Floods in Thailand affected the output of hard drive assembly plants there, which caused some disruption in total PC shipments.
Lenovo was the only other PC vendor among the top five to have shown a market share increase, but that was only by two points. By contrast, Apple posted a six point increase year-over-year. The other three -- HP, Acer, and Dell -- showed declines in market share.
HP, which has stopped making its TouchPad tablet, dropped to second place. If HP is to regain its previous top place, or even stay in the running, clearly it has to get back into the tablet game. Canalys analyst Tim Coulling noted in a statement that the computer maker is now focusing on enterprise-oriented, Windows 7-based tablets, such as its recently launched Slate 2, and it intends to join the Windows 8 bandwagon once that OS is launched.
But, Coulling said, while early demonstrations of Windows 8 "seem promising," the technology giant needs to create "an intuitive user experience that is far less resource intensive."
What's a PC?
Canalys also noted that Lenovo's adoption of the flourishing Android platform for its enterprise and consumer tablets "gives it a better opportunity than HP" to continue growing its market share.
The research firm said it expects the Intel-backed Ultrabook notebook, with a variety of models coming from a number of manufacturers, to become a significant factor in PC growth over the next year. However, Canalys doesn't expect Ultrabooks to gain any real momentum until the latter part of this year.
Ross Rubin, executive director for connected intelligence at the NPD Group, said NPD's subsidiary, DisplaySearch, also counts tablets as PCs, and had also ranked Apple and HP as the new first and second place.
Rubin said the argument for including tablets "is becoming increasingly stronger." He noted that, after Windows 8 ships, with a similar OS and interface on both PCs and tablets, "it will be more difficult to distinguish between what is a PC and what is not."
With the borderline between tablets, e-readers, and the larger smartphones also beginning to blur, Rubin pointed out that productivity is "historically a task we've strongly ID'd with PCs," and could be one of the demarcating lines for the outer edges of the evolving PC category.
But, he said, at some point smartphones may have to be included, since they increasingly have a number of productivity tools available to them.