Turns out Acer President Gianfranco Lanci wasn't just idly boasting earlier Wednesday when he said his company would pass Dell in the PC rankings "very soon." By very soon he clearly meant "today."
IDC released its PC tracker report Wednesday afternoon for the third quarter of 2009 and for the very first time, Acer is indeed the No. 2 producer of PCs in the world, with 14 percent. Hewlett-Packard remained on top with 20.2 percent of PCs shipped, and Dell dropped to 12.7 percent.
While not a total surprise considering that Acer's and Dell's momentum have been headed in opposing directions for some time, Acer's rise is indeed impressive. Just a few years ago most people would probably not have been able to recognize the Taiwanese brand, but that changed when it scooped up Gateway and began its aggressive attack on retail laptops in the U.S and Europe. Meanwhile Dell has fallen from the top vendor of PCs as recently as mid-2006 to No. 3 today as it navigates the changing PC market.
"It's a pretty amazing transition in market leadership by Acer," said Loren Loverde, the program director of IDC's PC Tracker. "It's reflective of the changes in form factors and channels and pricing--the way we've shifted to lower cost portables, particularly in consumer and retail, which is where Dell was not as strong."
There was more disappointment for Dell. Besides falling to third worldwide, Dell also dropped from first to second place in shipments in the U.S, according to IDC. HP sold the most PCs in the U.S in the third quarter, with 25.5 percent of shipments, compared to Dell's 25 percent.
When reached for comment, a Dell representative said only, "As we've said for some time, we're focused on profitable growth, not simply share results."
There was also good news for companies not named Acer. For the first time in a year, PC makers' shipments grew. During the third quarter, they shipped saw 2 percent growth compared to the same quarter a year ago. It's an encouraging sign, especially when IDC analysts were anticipating a 3 percent decline for this quarter. Consumers have been a huge driver of that as the sales of notebooks and mini-notebooks or Netbooks have continued apace. Commercial purchases of PCs, however, are still slow to pick back up. That will change over the next couple of quarters, according to IDC.
One of the main variables has been the looming retail launch of Windows 7. IDC has said it does not anticipate a huge bump in PC purchases directly related to the operating system release, at least immediately.
"We didn't really expect a large reaction in a sense of shipments being synchronized around Win 7," said Loverde. However, fourth-quarter growth in 2008 was negative, and the growth during the upcoming fourth quarter of this year as the economy improves is likely to be better, but not necessarily directly tied to Windows 7.
"The fact we're seeing this growth now, ahead of Win 7, means they're buying systems and planning to upgrade (when it comes out later this month) or they're buying systems because there's a lot of demand and that can only improve with Win 7," said Loverde.
Rounding out the top 5 PC makers after No. 3 Dell was Lenovo with 8.9 percent and Toshiba with 5.2 percent of PCs shipped. In the U.S. only, after HP and Dell, was Acer with 11.1 percent, Apple with 9.4 percent, and Toshiba with 8.1 percent, according to IDC.
Rival market researchers at Gartner have the numbers counted slightly differently. Gartner has Dell at No. 1 in the U.S. still, with 26.2 percent of PCs shipped, HP with 25.7 percent, Acer with 13.9 percent, Apple with 8.8 percent, and Toshiba with 8 percent. The discrepancy between the two firms' counting is derived from Gartner including x86 servers in its count of PCs and IDC only counting revenue from PC vendors' factories; Gartner looks at the revenue from the vendors as well as their sales and distribution partners.
This story was last updated at 3:30 p.m. PDT with comment from Dell and explanation of the Gartner and IDC numbers.