CUPERTINO (AP) — Apple is selling more portable computers than any other manufacturer.

Including the iPad, Apple Inc. sold 17.2 percent of mobile computers worldwide in the October-December quarter, according to a report published Wednesday by research group DisplaySearch. That’s even more than Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s top PC maker.

Apple has sold nearly 15 million iPads in its first nine months on sale, including 7.3 million in the most recent quarter alone. Without the iPad, Apple is the world’s eighth-ranking PC manufacturer.

HP ranks second when it comes to mobile computers, a category that includes laptops, tablet computers and netbooks. Acer Inc., Dell Inc. and Toshiba Corp round out the top five.

Apple’s lead doesn’t mean people are buying iPads instead of larger laptops and desktops, said DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim. Rather, it’s selling best in countries where most people already own computers. He said that even though the iPad is relatively inexpensive, with a starting price of $499, consumers in emerging markets can only afford one computer and are likely to buy one that’s more powerful, and not necessarily more portable.

“In emerging markets, PCs are still aspirational,” Shim said. “They’re looking for the most computing capability they can get for their dollar. In those cases they’re gravitating more towards a fully configured PC. In some cases toward desktops.”

Shim added that Apple will continue to dominate the tablet market for at least a year or two, even though companies such as Motorola Mobility Inc. will begin selling tablets running Google Inc.’s popular Android software, commonly found on smart phones.

Meanwhile, PCs face competition from another kind of mobile gadget: smart phones. In the fourth quarter, smart phones outsold PCs for the first time ever, according to a report from research group IDC earlier this month.

In that case, too, it’s not that people are buying phones instead of PCs. Sales of personal computers are slowing because many consumers already own them and only tend to replace them every three to five years, compared with every two years for phones.

(© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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