Laptop Shipments Outpace Desktop PCs for First Time

PC makers shipped more portable PCs than desktop computers in the third quarter of 2008, the first time that's ever happened. A surge in low-cost netbook computers is credited with the changeover, which had previously been building slowly.

Portable PC shipments rose almost 40 percent in the quarter to 38.6 million units, according to market research firm iSuppli. Meanwhile, sales of desktop PCs fell by 1.3 percent to 38.5 million units.

Overall, PC sales were up 15.4 percent globally, iSuppli says, with 79 million PCs shipped. HP remains the number one PC maker, with 14.9 million units and market share of 18.8 percent. Dell is number two, with about 11 million units sold and 13.9 percent of the market.

The big winner in the quarter, however, was Acer, which sells more netbooks than other companies. "Acer shipped almost 3 million more notebooks in the third quarter than it did in the preceding quarter, with the majority of those 3 million being the company's netbook products," an iSuppli statement reads. Acer now controls 12.2 percent of the market and sold 9.7 million units in the quarter, up almost 80 percent. If netbook growth continues at just a fraction of its current torrid pace, Acer could actually surpass Dell in the current quarter to become the second-biggest PC maker worldwide.

The big loser in the quarter, curiously, was Apple, which had previously seen strong market share gains and growth. Apple conspicuously markets only high-end, expensive notebook computers, however, and does not offer a netbook-class machine. The company dropped to seventh place worldwide and lost 14 percent market share year-over-year, dropping from 3.7 percent of the market in 2007 to 3.2 percent.

The problem with netbooks, from an industry perspective, is that they are inexpensive and don't generate much in the way of profits. Sales of netbook computers also come at the expense of more feature-laden--and more profitable--high-end computers. So while netbook growth is healthy from a shipments standpoint, the continued popularity of these devices could also end up harming PC maker financials, and dramatically.

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