Weak PC sales: Is it the economy or Apple?

Businesses are buying technology and lots of it, say some of the major enterprise vendors, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell. But consumers are holding back.

While sales of servers, storage and networking gear grew in double digits in the last quarter, consumer PC spending dipped into negative numbers for Dell and HP. IBM focuses on the business market.

In its latest quarterly report on Tuesday, HP said business hardware sales increased 22 per cent from the year ago quarter. Dell last week said its large enterprise business was up 12 per cent, and IBM last month said hardware revenue grew 21 per cent.

However, the hardware gains are being dampened by consumer spending. The notable exception in the consumer market: Apple, which last month reported a revenue gain of 71 per cent, thanks partly to sales of 7.33 million iPads in its last quarter.

HP said its personal systems group, which includes PC sales to consumers and businesses, declined one per cent, despite an 11 per cent increase in growth in PC spending by businesses. Dell said its consumer segment was down year over year by eight per cent, “relative to a strong Windows 7 launch last year.”

Analysts see multiple forces impacting consumer PC buying at HP and Dell.

If you assembled all the things affecting PC sales at enterprise vendors into a word cloud it might look something like this: Apple would dominate in bold jumbo letters, and perhaps in similar size letters would appear “economy,” along with still smaller names of the various Android tablets, and the names of vendors selling heavily discounted PCs.

HP’s CEO, Leo Apotheker, didn’t cite competition from alternative devices, but instead blamed the economy, noting “continued softness” in the consumer PC market in explaining the results.

But some analysts were giving at least partial credit to Apple for the PC sales. “Independent business spending came back very strongly but interest in and actual sales of the iPad have taken an impressive bite out of the consumer PC business,” said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group.

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