In the fourth quarter of 2012, three of the top 10 PC makers -- HP, Dell, and Apple -- were based in the U.S., while the rest had headquarters in China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. In the fourth quarter a decade ago, the top three PC makers were HP, Dell and IBM, but since then the industry has contracted with Taiwanese and Chinese companies involved in key transactions. Lenovo acquired IBM's PC business in 2004, and also Japan-based NEC, which was one of the top five PC vendors in 2002. Acer bought out U.S. vendor Gateway and European vendor Packard Bell. Asus, which made PCs for companies like HP in the past, spun off its assembly business into a firm called Pegatron, and created its own brand of PCs.
There's a big difference between the enterprise and consumer sectors with respect to products and business models, said John Ciacchella, principal at Deloitte Consulting.
To play in the consumer market, where companies like Lenovo are strong, manufacturers need to move volumes of product, while they need to offer services and value to appeal to enterprises, Ciacchella said.
"Lenovo has played economies of scale, they've globalized. They've played the market better than an HP or Dell has," Ciacchella said.
Lenovo also has the natural advantage of proximity to their suppliers as well as to growing markets. Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China are hubs for PC assembly and manufacturing of components like memory, motherboards.
"In the case of Lenovo they've got an indigenous market that's huge," Ciacchella said. "It's still nowhere near saturation."
Asian PC makers, especially Lenovo and Asus, are aggressively investing in the consumer market, either through acquisitions or through research and development, said Tracy Tsai, an analyst at Gartner.
The Asian companies are devoted to creating a variety of consumer-oriented product lines, including tablets and smartphones, Tsai said. HP and Dell were slow in adapting to the mobile device business, and research and development is focused more on enterprise products for the long term, instead of consumer products that fulfill short-term demand.
Innovations from U.S. PC makers IBM, HP, Compaq, Apple and Dell drove early PC growth. But PCs have become commodity products and the level of innovation in laptops and desktops has not matched that of tablets. Innovation in PCs is now primarily being driven by chip maker Intel, which hopes to fuel the market with ultrabooks, a new category of thin-and-light laptops with tablet features.
But expensive ultrabooks and a weak user response to Windows 8 have failed to boost the PC market. Microsoft has developed Surface tablets, which the software maker intends to be a starting point for PC makers to develop a new generation of Windows PCs. Early reception to the device, however, raises questions about its future success.