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Macs & Chromebooks Take PC Prizes

Chromebooks and Macs were the big winners in the third-quarter PC business as consumers continued to gravitate to the blazing speed and cheap price of Google’s new category, and to the heavy-duty processing and lighter form factor of the Mac and MacBook Air, apparently at the expense of iPads and tablets.

According to ABI Research’s “Media Tablets, Ultrabooks & E-readers Market Research” study, Chromebook shipments enjoyed another strong quarter, increasing by 67 percent quarter over quarter and are now projected to double in size from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Apple just reported that Macs were the big category success in its September quarter, behind a 21 percent increase in sales from a year ago. The segment hit a new record 5.5 million units for the period.

The last record for Mac sales in a quarter was 5.2 million, set three years ago.

The achievements come at both ends of the computing price spectrum, with Microsoft’s Windows-based products apparently getting the dirt end of the stick.

“Chromebooks may have more of a place in the market than originally anticipated, especially as more vendors jump on board and sales continue to grow,” ABI Research said Tuesday of its new study overview.

IDC senior research analyst for the PC market, Rajani Singh, said in a recent report: “PC shipment growth in the United States remained slightly faster than most other regions in the third quarter and overall the U.S. PC market came in right on forecast with 4.3 percent year-on-year growth.”

Singh attributed the U.S. PC success to solid back-to-school sales, a strong performance from key vendors, the continued acceptance of Chromebooks, some commercial uptick from Windows XP to Windows 7 migration, and the slowdown in tablet sales.

The recent ABI study found that Acer continues to maintain its lead in the Chromebook space over other vendors in the market, including Samsung, HP, and Dell.

“The top three leading vendors — Acer, Samsung, and HP — accounted for 74 percent shipment share during [the first half of 2014] and are forecasted to maintain market control through [the second half],” ABI said.

“Consumers are hungry for a product that is cost effective but also provides the versatility and functionality of a laptop,” said Stephanie Van Vactor, ABI Chromebook analyst. “The growth of the Chromebook market demonstrates a niche that is gaining traction among consumers.”

ABI Research forecast North America will account for 78 percent of the Chromebook market in 2014.

In late 2013, Chromebooks entered the market when notebook sales were declining and tablet sales were on the rise. In contrast, the first half of 2014 has demonstrated slowing tablet growth and the revival of the notebook market, ABI found.

“Chromebooks may be a temporary fad similar to the netbook, but the form-factor design and low-cost price tag draws considerable interest that may be a longer term trend,” continued Van Vactor. “Chromebooks may have more of a place in the market than originally anticipated, especially as more vendors jump on board and sales continue to grow.”

Meanwhile, Apple enjoyed $6.6 billion in Mac revenue in its fiscal fourth quarter (another record), representing 16 percent of the company’s $42.1 billion in total revenue for the period.

Apple attributed the success to strong back-to-school sales.

According to estimates from IDC, Mac sales accounted for 7 percent of all personal computers, but the Mac’s growth was better than most competitive products. IDC estimated overall global PC industry sales were down 1.7 percent, which is significantly less than anticipated.

Meanwhile, the average selling price of the Mac decreased 4 percent quarter over quarter, from $1,255 to $1,200, as Apple sought to boost demand.

But the increase in Mac sales appears to have come at the expense Apple’s own iPad, in part, as shoppers opted for a more traditional computer, like the highly portable and popular MacBook Air.

Apple said iPad sales dipped 12.5 percent to 12.3 million units in the period.

Mac revenue was also 25 percent higher than the iPad’s during the September period, and in contrast to the same period last year when iPad sales revenue topped Mac by 10 percent.

The news comes just one week after Apple introduced new iPads, including the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, while also dropping the price of previous-generation models by $100.

Of course the real story for tablets will be told in new quarter ahead, when sales volumes traditionally accelerate on strong holiday gift-giving demand.

The same can be said for other PC segments as well.

“Moving forward, we expect a healthy holiday season, hence the U.S. PC market may maintain a positive growth rate,” said IDC’s Singh. “However, low demand for large commercial refreshes, combined with competition from two-in-one systems, may limit the growth potential.”