Apple is on track to overtake HP as the world's largest PC maker before the second half of 2012, according to the analyst firm that insists iPads are PCs.
PC shipments should reach 415 million units in 2011, up about 15 percent year-on-year, mostly because of Apple's iPad, according to analyst firm Canalys.
The firm estimates there will be 59 million tablets shipped in 2011 and 22 million in the fourth quarter.
“HP and Apple will fight for top position in Q4, but Apple may have to wait for the release of iPad 3 before it passes HP,” said Canalys analyst Tim Coulling.
While Gartner and IDC do not currently include tablets in PCs estimates, Asymco analyst Horace Dediu argues that the iPad is a "low end computer", defined not by the device but by emerging patterns of usage.
"There was a time when the PC was considered to be a low end computer. Based on the prevailing definition of computing when it was new, the PC was also belittled as not a real computer.
"With the puny new personal computer came completely new definitions of what computers should be used for. With the new touch-based devices of today, we are seeing similar migrations of utilisation to new jobs to be done."
Canalys' forecast comes after financial analyst Charlie Wolf of Needham and Co said Apple had cracked the 5 per cent worldwide market share mark in the conventional sense of the term PC.
Even without the iPad, Apple PCs have entered the top five in Western Europe's shrinking PC market, taking 7.6 percent share there in the third quarter of 2011 off the back of 28 percent year-on-year growth, according to Gartner.
Interest was coming from both consumer and business, it said.
In the US Apple's MacBook Air led the company's 21 percent growth in PC shipments in the third quarter, according to Gartner.
Ultrabooks hold some promise to reignite interest in PCs made by traditional manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Asus and Acer, but for this to occur prices would need to drop.
“The least expensive models are currently around $US800, a real barrier to mass consumer uptake," said Canalys Analyst Michael Kauh.
The flooding in Thailand, which makes nearly half the world's hard disk supplies, may help accelerate the shift to solid state drives by making them relatively cheaper, Canalys notes.