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As Apple’s iPad 2 shines, PC sales plummet

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A new report from research firm IDC shows that worldwide PC sales are down 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2011. This marks the first drop in sales since the world economy tanked in 2008. In the US, the numbers were even more depressing for PC manufacturers, with sales falling a full 10 percent — a reversal from 2010, which saw “strong gains” for most of the year, says IDC.

IDC explains that the drop in sales is due to a wide variety of factors, from a cash-strapped populace and the still-slow world economy to the tumultuous events in the Middle East and Japan.

Out of the world’s top five PC manufacturers, only Lenovo and Toshiba saw positive growth. HP fell 2.8 percent; Dell dropped 1.8 percent; and Acer sank 15.8 percent. Lenovo far outperformed the market, however, with a whopping 16.3 percent increase in sales.

In the US, the shifts are even more drastic. Despite its worldwide gains, Lenovo doesn’t even make the cut. And while Acer sales fell markedly overall, its sales numbers in the US market took a 42.1 percent nosedive — the largest shift, in either direction, of any PC manufacturer, by far.

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Apple, on the other hand, enjoyed a 9.6 percent increase in sales, due to a strong showing with its Mac PCs. That number does not include iPad 2 sales, but IDC says increasing popularity of Apple’s iPad line has played a role in the decline of the PC market.

“‘Good-enough computing’ has become a firm reality, exemplified first by Mini Notebooks and now Media Tablets,” says Jay Chou, an IDC senior analyst. “Macroeconomic forces can explain some of the ebb and flow of the PC business, but the real question PC vendors have to think hard about is how to enable a compelling user experience that can justify spending on the added horsepower.”

In other words, PC makers can no longer simply tout fast processors and piles of RAM to convince consumers to purchase their products anymore — they have to adopt Apple’s appreciation for good design and easy, pleasurable usability, if they want to remain competitive. Which, of course, they do.

“I’m not saying iPad and media tablets are going to eat PCs for lunch. This is what many people feared about Netbooks earlier,” Chou tells CNet. “But we are seeing that hardware alone is not enough. Hardware vendors have to start thinking about software.”