Cheap PCs Ding Mac Market Share

Microsoft made it clear with its "Laptop Hunters" ads, and consumers listened, as the global recession ground on: Windows PCs are cheaper than Macs. It's not as though the price differential wasn't known already, but Microsoft made sure we were reminded of what they like to call, the "Apple Tax." With that, Apple fell to the No. 5 spot in the U.S., market research firm IDC said Wednesday.

Naturally, there's no way of knowing how much "Laptop Hunters" had to do with it, but IDC's preliminary report shows Apple swapping places with Toshiba, who now moves into fourth place. The top three are Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell, and Acer. Last year, Dell held the top spot in Q4.

It's not as though the sales figure for Apple when compared from Q4 2008 to Q4 2009 disappointed. It was that although the company showed nice growth, it was outperformed by formerly fifth-place Toshiba. Apple rose 31 percent, year-over-year, but Toshiba rose an amazing 71.5 percent, HP 45.1 percent, Acer 18.3 percent, and Dell a rather modest 5.3 percent. IDC did note, however, that Apple finished fourth overall for 2009, at 8 percent, trailed by Toshiba at 7.7 percent.

Here's how IDC explained the surge in buying:
The U.S. market exploded in the fourth quarter [...] The vendors responded with new low price points to stimulate demand and face competition. In this context, low-cost notebooks and mininotebooks were the biggest contributors to the successful fourth quarter.
As we know, low price points are not a selling point of Apple PCs. At the same time, analysts at Gartner released their preliminary estimates, and they came up wit the same rankings. The top five in the U.S. were, in order, HP, Dell, Acer, Toshiba, and Apple.

In Gartner's case, the market research firm said Apple gained 23.3 percent, HP 45.9 percent, Acer 48.4 percent, and Toshiba a similarly huge (compared with IDC) 70.7 percent. Dell again had the smallest percentage gain of 5.5 percent.

Here's how Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa explained things:
The U.S. market last quarter continued to be very price driven. If a company is not in the low-priced market, it's absolutely difficult for it to increase market share. And Apple did not do as well as others in share because of its prices.
Watch the first "Laptop Hunters" ad, featuring Lauren, who was later outed as an aspiring actress, below: