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PC sales floundered in the consumer market during the holidays as computers faced competition from a number of other devices from game consoles to media tablets. But in the professional market, the PC replacement cycle insulated PC vendors such as HP, Dell and Lenovo from some of the effects of slower consumer sales, according to new market numbers from both Gartner and IDC.

But those slower consumer sales at these PC makers overall just served to help Apple, a brand mostly associated with consumers. Apple rose to rank fifth in PC shipments in the U.S. market during the fourth quarter. Gartner said that Apple’s shipments increased by 23.7 percent, more than any other vendor. Toshiba’s shipments grew by 14.4 percent. Other vendors’ shipments declined year over year.

Gartner and IDC released their fourth quarter market numbers this week for PC shipments, with Gartner saying that PC sales rose by 3.1 percent globally for the quarter year over year. IDC says that they rose 2.7 percent.

"The U.S. market was expected to shrink year over year given the exploding growth experienced in the fourth quarter of 2009," said David Daoud, research director, US Quarterly PC Tracker and Personal Computing. “Growth steadily slowed throughout 2010 as weakening demand and competition from the Apple iPad constrained PC shipments.

“In addition to relatively high market penetration and a ‘good-enough’ computing experience with existing PCs, consumers are being more cautious with their purchases and competing devices have been vying for consumer dollars,” he added. “This situation is likely to persist in 2011, if not worsen, as a wave of media tablets could put a dent in the traditional PC market.”

Both Gartner and IDC noted that Acer’s challenges were particularly acute given the slow down in consumer spending on netbooks, product category that had been so successful for Acer in 2009.

“U.S. holiday sales were not fantastic for most PC vendors, but the professional market did show healthy growth during the quarter,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. “Media tablets undoubtedly intensified the competition in the consumer market. These devices do not replace primary PCs, but they are viewed as good enough devices for these who want to have a second and third connected device for content consumption usage. Mini-notebook shipments were hit the most by the success of media tablets.”

Gartner said that HP continued to lead the U.S. PC market, accounting for 29.3 percent of PC shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010. HP was followed by Dell at 22.1 percent of the U.S. market, and then Acer at 11.1 percent. Toshiba was number 4 at 10.3 percent and Apple was number 5 at 9.7 percent.