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Weakened Apple slab grab sees Q1 growth slump to RECORD LOW

But guess what? Cook's lot is STILL on top of the market

Apple's iPad shipments into distribution have fallen faster than at any point since the slab was brought to market and yet the wheels aren't close to coming off of the fruit-emblazoned sales juggernaut.

A 16.1 per cent world-wide sales crash in Q1 to 16.35 million units saw iPad market share plummet to 32.2 per cent from 46.4 per cent a year ago, stats from channel beanie Canalys show, but Apple still kept a double-digit lead over second-placed tab player Sammy.

As CEO Tim Cook has already pointed out on a Q2 conference call, sending fewer boxes into distribution was a deliberate ploy by Apple, something that senior analyst Tim Coulling acknowledged.

"Apple took action during the quarter to run down its iPad inventory, a smart move as tablet stock in the channel rose due to strong seasonal shipments in the previous quarter.

Stock sat in the channel costs money, especially if it doesn't shift and then requires a price correction. Distributors don't like to carry more than four to six weeks' worth.

"Longer term, we do not believe Apple's Q1 performance points to a decline in the tablet category, despite growing pressure from larger-screen smartphones," Coulling added.

Cupertino had more luck with Mac shipments, bouncing 4.3 per cent to 4.1m, which helped keep it on top of the global PC market. Overall Apple sales – desktops, notebooks and tabs – declined 12.6 per cent to 20.4m, leaving market share at 16.6 per cent, down from 20 per cent.

The total global client market grew at 4.7 per cent to 123.7 million boxes in Q1, but there'll be no surprises slabs lifted proceedings, growing 21.3 per cent to 50.8m, as old style computing kit dropped 4.4 per cent to 72.8 million units.

Chinese dragon Lenovo kept up the pressure on rivals by growing on all fronts: up 10.4 per cent in the decreasing traditional PC space; rising 231 per cent in tabs; and 21.4 per cent overall to nearly 15 million computers.

"Lenovo did remarkably well," Coulling told us. "It has a significant enterprise business and customers are becoming more confident. XP migration is helping to fuel that increase in spending".

Arch rival HP snuck into third spot in total client sales, with 6.2 per cent growth - leapfrogging Samsung which exited the volume PC sector - on the back of a 4.7 per cent rise in PCs to nearly 13 million units. HP tabs declined to just under 400k after a seasonal uplift in Q4.

Coulling said the same enterprise dynamics that beefed up Lenovo had also assisted HP during the quarter.

"HP grew notebooks for the second time since the first quarter of 2012. Business spending is picking up".

Shoved into fourth spot in there global PC stakes, Samsung saw total PC shipments decline 10.7 per cent to 11.2 million units, nearly 10 million of which were tabs (up 15.5 per cent on a year ago).

Clearly distributors outside of Blighty are having a less troublesome time finding homes for Galaxy products.

Texan enterprise infrastructure player PC baron Dell remained the fifth largest shifter of PC tin on the planet, despite being a bit-part player in tabs. Sales went up 9.2 per cent to 9.9m machines including 9.8m desktops and notebook (up 8.3 per cent).

Included in the "Others" section was Acer, which shifted 6.1 million traditional PCs, down 13.1 per cent, and 734k tabs, down 33 per cent. It is suffering due to weak consumer demand.

"Acer hasn't got a large presence in the commercial space but they are raising their profile in SMB," said Coulling. "Any vendor that is exposed to consumer notebooks has been struggling".

This trend also hurt Asus during the quarter, with PC shipments down seven per cent to five million, and slab sales falling 10.8 per cent to 1.4 million.

Another vendor buried in the "rest of the market" area was a certain dual software-hardware borg called Microsoft. There were some 1m Surface devices sold in the quarter, up from 830k a year earlier. The majority, 59 per cent, were RT and the remainder obviously the Pro.

"Microsoft is transitioning from old products that were on special offer to newer expensive products. It [Surface] is not setting the world alight, shipments are pretty stable," said Coulling.

"There is still a perceived lack of appetite for Windows-based tablets and the price is high compared to Android".

And of course Microsoft's release of Office for Apple's slab could turn into an own goal, where Surface is concerned anyway, the Canalys man added, helping to make the iPad into a productivity as well as consumption device.

"By releasing Office for the iPad Microsoft may have taken away one of the major reasons to buy a Surface tab. It will be interesting to see how that shapes up this year," he said. ®

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