The largest PC maker in the world is — Apple?

Hard to believe, maybe, but according to the latest analysis from Canalys, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company shipped 120 million PCs last year, if you include the iPad.

Apple shipped just 5 million Macs, but iPad shipments outstripped that number threefold, and the company had a six-point gain in the market over a year ago. The hardest-hit PC makers last year were Acer, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which is often given the title of the largest PC maker in the world. HP, of course, has had its own issues this year. Most prominently, the HP TouchPad failed to take off at its regular price and was discontinued soon after it hit the market.

It’s been no secret that Apple’s tablet has been eating away at the PC market. In fact, one of Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook’s favorite responses to being asked whether iPad sales have hurt Mac sales is to point out that more and more consumers are ditching their Windows-based PCs for iPads.

Apple did see a 26 percent increase in Mac sales over the previous year, according to its latest earning release, but Canalys does point out that ultrabooks from Acer, Dell and other makers could raise some small challenges to Macs in the coming year.

“In the short term, though, vendors will experience more pressure in the netbook and notebook segments, especially with Apple’s annual iPad refresh approaching,” said Canalys Research Analyst Michael Kauh in a statement.

The question, of course, remains whether it’s fair to count tablets in the same genre for shipments as PCs. While it’s true that people are using their tablets to do the things they used to do on their PCs — e-mail, watching video, etc. — it’s a hard sell to say that they should be counted as the same device.

Do you think it’s a fair categorization? Let us know in the comments.

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