UK PC sales dropped a recessionary 20 percent in the final quarter of 2011 with only one branded vendor, Apple, increasing sales, according to Gartner’s latest figures.

Across the whole of 2011, UK PC sales – laptops and desktop computers – dropped 15.9 percent, or 2 million units as buyers decided they were more interested in devices such as smartphones and tablets, which also tend to be cheaper to buy.

The unit decline is so serious across consumer and business alike that Apple now sells nearly one in ten of all PCs in the UK, partly a reflection of the platform’s popularity but also the shrinking size of the market itself.

For most other brands, the figures were grim. Acer lost 46 percent year on year, HP nearly 16 percent, and Dell 9 percent, with only Lenovo rising 14 percent.

Gartner’s explanation for the drop is a mixture of recession – public sector business sales saw a noticeable fall – and the arrival of PC alternatives such as tablets and smartphones.

Clearly falling sales are not ideal but are things really as bad as they appear?

One clue to the answer is that netbooks are in freefall, losing 50 percent of sales in Q4. It was this segment that has held up unit sales since 2009 and its decline is mostly a result of vendors consciously cutting development and abandoning the segment.

Given that these devices had thin margins and appeared to be taking sales away from more profitable higher-specced laptops, this drop could actually be a harbinger of better times ahead.

Unit sales are down, then, but with Intel’s pricier ultrabook portables not far off and Windows 8 coming, profitability could return in the next year.

"The UK market has been a prime illustration of the underlying weakness in PC demand across Western Europe," said Gartner research director, Ranjit Atwal.

"PC vendors face a long, uphill struggle to regain the interest of consumers. The introduction of Ultrabooks in late 2011 is desperately needed."

In January, Gartner released figures showing just how weak PC sales have become across the whole of EMEA.

It should be pointed out that historically PC sales have seen several peaks and troughs, driven in the main by changes in technology and the arrival of new versions of Windows. The PC is not dead yet - the arrival of Windows 8 on Ultrabooks would yet see sales spike once again. Wintel to the rescue.