Apple was the number 5 vendor in PC shipments in the US with a market share of 3.2 per cent in 2003, according to IDC.

The company was ranked behind Dell, HP, IBM, and Gateway in IDC's analysis of the US market in 2003, but it was not among the top 5 US vendors in the fourth quarter of 2003, or one of the top 5 vendors in worldwide sales during the entire 2003, according to the IDC data.

Apple's growth was not sustained constantly throughout 2003. IDC said: "Product refreshes in the fourth quarter helped lift growth to double digits [in the fourth quarter], but missed Apple's key third quarter client base and shipments were down annually."

And over all Apple's shipments were down on 2002. Figures show that Apple shipped 1,675,000 units in 2003, compared with 1,679,000 in 2002, a 0.2 per cent decrease compared with a 10.9 per cent increase in the overall sales experienced by the industry.

But Apple did experience strong growth in Europe with notebook demand being a key source of growth. Shipment growth here moved into double digits for the first time since 2000, rising 11.4 per cent to 152.6 million, according to IDC.

Good Fourth Quarter

Apple wasn't the only computer company to experience a good fourth quarter. According to IDC the number of PCs shipped increased 15.2 per cent year over year, to 44.6 million units during the quarter four.

Similar figures from Gartner show fourth-quarter shipments totaled 48.4 million, up 12 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2002. The two companies' results differ because of the varying methodologies they employ.

Gartner figures also show PC shipments totaled 168.9 million units in 2003, up 10.9 per cent from 2002. Gartner is projecting growth of 12.8 per cent for 2004.

"It was a good finish to a great year," said IDC computer analyst Roger Kay. " The market picked up in a rather surprising manner mid-year and has been gaining ground ever since."

"Demand for home PCs, and especially notebook PCs, surged in late summer and that demand continued into the winter," said Gartner analyst Charles Smulders.