Apple's share of the portable computer market in the UK has fallen from 3.2 per cent in 1998 to 2.6 per cent in 1999, according to research firm IDC.

The company was number eight portable supplier in 1999, behind Toshiba at number one, followed by Dell, Compaq, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. Apple dropped below Acer, which has a share of 2.9 per cent. The statistics are based on number of units shipped.

Statistics for portables in the education sector also showed a slip in 1999, despite the launch of the iBook. Apple came in at number seven with 2.2 per cent - a fall from 3.6 per cent in 1998. Research Machines held on to its number one position, above Toshiba, Sony, Dell, HP and Compaq. All the top vendors of 1998 lost market share in 1999 to Toshiba and Sony - these two giants snatched 11.7 per cent each.

IDC analyst Andy Brown explained to Macworld that Apple is up against very strong local competition in the UK, with niche players like Research Machines (RM) dominating the education sector. Pricing is also a major factor, and Apple must compete with the bundled offers of companies like RM.

Some observers attribute some of Apple's loss of market share to UK user's reactions to Apple's withdrawal from Apple Expo in the UK and the loss of UK English from its operating system.

The statistics also reflect the fact that the iBook was not launched in the UK until late October 1999, and the company showed a disappointing third quarter as a whole. Apple is now working to address its performance in these market segments, according to Brown, and will attempt to improve its position in the next year.

Apple strongly refuted the claim that it has lost market share in the portable market. Apple UK's MD Brendan O'Sullivan told Macworld: "Apple does not reveal the actual unit numbers, but, as recently shown in our press day about mobile computing solutions, what we’re doing flies in the face of the idea that we are losing market share."

"If you look at the business we've done in the last year," he continued, "we launched the iBook in the final quarter, and we showed an increase of 400 per cent on the previous year's quarter. We sold more portable Macs in that quarter than in the entire year previously."

O'Sullivan suggested that the way the figures are collected are misleading, as Apple sales in the education market are direct sales only. "If you were to ask resellers for numbers, they would say zero."

He went on to say that Apple is on line for a 260 per cent increase for portables sold this quarter (January to March) over the same quarter last year.