March 25, 2009, 4:31 PM — For the first time, Apple Inc. dropped out of the top spot in the computer reliability ranking of Rescuecom Corp., a U.S. chain of service shops, and ended in third place behind a pair of Asian computer makers that specialize in laptops.
Apple's Macs, which led all comers in Rescuecom's rankings during 2007 and 2008, were beaten in the first quarter of 2009 by machines sold by Asustek Computer, better known as Asus, and Lenovo. Following Apple in fourth through sixth place were Toshiba, Acer and Hewlett-Packard, respectively.
Rescuecom generates its scores by comparing the percentage of each vendor's support calls with its U.S. market share. The greater the difference between the two, the higher the score. Higher scores, said Rescuecom President Josh Kaplan, indicate more reliable hardware and better support from the vendor.
For instance, although Apple's U.S. market share was 6.8%, Macs accounted for only 2.1% of the calls to Rescuecom, producing a score of 324. However, that was dramatically down from Apple's 2008 record-setting score of 700, a number that reflected an even higher market share, 7.8%, but an even lower percentage of support calls, just 1.1%.
"I can only hypothesize why Apple's fallen," said Kaplan. "Its market share has been increasing over time, so more people than ever own a Mac. But Apple's main channel of support is from the Apple retail stores. As it becomes harder to make an appointment at an Apple store, or the wait for support there is longer, more are choosing to go with third-party support."
Tops for the first three months of the year was Asus, best known as a maker of mini-notebooks, dubbed "netbooks." Its score of 972 -- a Rescuecom record -- was derived by comparing its market share of 1.6% to its call share of only 0.2%.
But Kaplan cautioned against reading too much, too quickly, into Asus' ranking. "Asus' shipping numbers skyrocketed in the last few months of 2008," he said, with many of the shipments involving the popular Eee line of netbooks, such as the Eee 1000, which debuted in August 2008. "They distributed a large chunk of machines in a short amount of time, but I wouldn't pin everything on its ranking going forward," Kaplan added, noting that the sudden surge in netbook sales means that there's a large number of just-acquired systems in users' hands, which in turn can translate into fewer support calls.
"It will be interesting to see in the coming quarters if Asus will start coming down to the level of the other vendors, or can sustain it," Kaplan said.
Dell Inc. placed seventh in Rescuecom's rankings, said Kaplan, down a spot from 2008, while Sony took the No. 8 position, up a spot from last year. Rescuecom's reliability scores for both companies' computers, however, were down for the first quarter of 2009 compared to last year.
Panasonic, which held the No. 2 spot in Rescuecom's last ranking, fell off the most recent chart completely.
As Rescuecom noted in December 2008, the volume of support calls related to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista continues to fall. Kaplan credited Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), which Microsoft released a year ago, for the improvement. "SP1 made Vista much more reliable, and there's also more software available for Vista that doesn't require patches [to run properly]," said Kaplan. "People are having fewer problems because they're not trying to adapt older software to the operating system."
Microsoft is on the final lap for SP2, Vista's next major update, which recently reached release candidate status and is reportedly on track for a mid-May ship date.
Kaplan also addressed the rapid fall in PC prices, arguing that although cheaper machines may make them disposable to some, rather than worthy of repair, that's not the case for everyone.
"Whether it's a [US]$300 Asus or a $2,000 Sony, the value of the computer for most people is in the data on the computer," he said. "Whether you buy a subnotebook or the more expensive computer, the value is in the software and the data on it, so quite a few of the calls we get are for data recovery or to transfer data from an older computer to a newer one."