Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) suffered a big drop in demand for its personal computers in the last quarter of 2011, two leading research firms said Wednesday, as competitors moved aggressively to capitalize on a period of confusion over HP's plans for its flagship PC division.
Continued weakness in the global economy and competition from other gadgets, such as tablets and smartphones, contributed to an overall decline in the number of PCs shipped by the world's computer-makers in the past three months, according to separate reports by the Gartner and IDC research firms.
And in a further sign of trouble for the industry, analysts at both research firms said they expect shipments will be depressed in coming months as PC-makers grapple with a shortage of disk drives from component manufacturers whose factories were disrupted by massive floods in Thailand last fall.
Even without the floods, the PC business has been challenged over the past year. Demand fell especially hard in the United States, where IDC said total PC shipments declined nearly 5 percent in 2011, compared with 2010, for the biggest annual decrease since 2001.
"PCs have pretty much saturated the North American market," said Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa. "Most people have one or two PCs at home. And now there are so
many other choices."
HP, however, suffered more than other companies in the last quarter. While the Palo Alto tech giant still outsold every other PC maker, its shipments plunged more than 25 percent in the United States and roughly 16 percent worldwide, according to estimates by the two research firms.
HP rocked the industry last August when then-CEO Leo Apotheker said he was considering a sale or spinoff of the company's $40 billion-a-year PC division. Apotheker lost his job a month later, and new CEO Meg Whitman announced in October that HP would remain in the PC business.
But analysts said the uncertainty was bound to confuse consumers and make corporate customers pause before signing new purchase agreements.
"I think that's the biggest reason for HP's results," said Kitagawa, who added that competing PC-makers "took the confusion as an opportunity to steal HP's existing customers."
HP declined to comment Wednesday. Company executives, however, have acknowledged the damage as they have scrambled to shore up their PC business. HP released several new desktop and laptop models in recent months.
Among other PC-makers, Lenovo showed significant growth in overseas markets last quarter, while Apple (AAPL) increased its share of the U.S. market, according to both IDC and Gartner, which don't count Apple's popular iPad in their estimates of PC shipments. By those estimates, Apple is the third biggest seller in the United States but it does not rank in the top five worldwide.
The two research firms use different methods to develop their figures, but their findings are generally consistent. Gartner estimated worldwide PC shipments at 92.2 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, down 1.4 percent from a year earlier. IDC estimated 92.7 million units, for a decrease of 0.2 percent.
IDC's Loren Loverde predicted that PC sales will improve later this year, after consumers see more new models on the market and companies gear up to promote a new version of Microsoft's widely used Windows operating system.
TOP five PC sellers:
IDC estimates PC-makers shipped 92.7 million units worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2011, compared with 92.9 million a year earlier.
1. HP had 16 percent of the market but saw its shipments fall 16 percent.
2. Lenovo had 14 percent of the market and saw shipments grow 37 percent.
3. Dell had 13 percent of the market and saw shipments grow 7 percent.
4. Acer had 11 percent of the market but saw shipments fall 8 percent.
5. ASUS had 7 percent of the market and saw shipments rise 26 percent.
Source: International Data Corporation
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