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Peak Apple Depending on which analyst group you prefer to believe, Apple's Mac sales in the US during the normally robust "back to school" quarter were either bad or very, very bad.

According to a report by Gartner and another by IDC, both released Wednesday, Apple was the only PC maker among the top five that suffered a decline in year-on-year sales during the just-ended quarter.

Gartner's analysts project that Apple's US Mac sales sank from 2.20 to 2.16 million year-on-year, a drop of 2.3 per cent in the quarter. IDC's analysts are far more pessimistic about Cupertino's fortunes, estimating the slippage to be from 2.15 to 1.9 million, a dive of a hefty 11.2 per cent.

The analyst groups also disagree on the extent of the worldwide PC market, but not nearly as much as they differ about Apple's US Mac sales. Gartner's global PC shipment estimate, which The Reg reported earlier today, is 80.3 million in the third quarter, an 8.6 per cent drop year-on-year, while IDC's box counters put the total at 81.6 million in the third quarter of 2013, a contraction of 7.6 per cent.

You might reasonably ask how the top three global performers – Lenovo, HP, and Dell – managed to eke out sales increases while the worldwide PC market continues to dwindle. Simple. Numbers four and five, Acer and Asus, saw their shipments sink 34.5 and 34.1 per cent, respectively, according to IDC, and 22.6 and 22.5, according to Gartner.

Back in the US, Apple maintained its number-three status behind leader HP and second-fiddle Dell – but that lead is shrinking. According to Gartner, fourth-place Lenovo's US sales surged 24.6 per cent in the quarter, year-on-year, while IDC pegs its rise at 25.8 per cent, and estimates that Lenovo sold just 200K units fewer than Apple's Cook & Co. managed in the quarter.

IDC opines that the top-three global PC vendors – Lenovo, HP, and Dell – benefitted from a "slight uptick" in sales to businesses, a market segment that's never been Apple's strong suit.

Another possible reason for Apple's US Mac-sales decline might be the fact that desktop-system buyers were putting off iMac purchases, waiting for the all-in-ones to be refreshed, which occured on September 24, just before the quarter drew to a close.

There's also the argument that OS X Mavericks is on the horizon, and folks are simply waiting until it is released to pop out their credit cards, and thus avoiding the – admitedly minor – hassle of upgrading. That reasoning, however, would also apply to Windows 8.1, scheduled to be released on October 18.

Fanbois thrashing about for another argument might assert that no one is buying Mac Pros these days, what with the Apple's new computer-in-a-can due to hit the shelves any day now. A more reasonable view, however, would be that depressed Mac Pro sales were likely to affect Mac sales figures by considerably less than 0.1 per cent.

In any case, we won't know if Gartner or IDC are correct until Apple releases its financial results for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2013 on October 28. But we do know one thing: if IDC's projected 11.2 per cent drop is anywhere near correct, the current holiday-shopping quarter just became more important for Apple and its oft-criticized CEO. ®

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