China probably overtook the U.S. as the largest personal-computer market last quarter, after three decades of American dominance in an industry pioneered by Apple Inc. (AAPL) and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)

Personal-computer shipments in China rose 14 percent to 18.5 million units during the second quarter, the first time they surpassed the number in the U.S., where they fell 4.8 percent to 17.7 million, Bryan Ma, an analyst at research firm IDC, said in an interview today. On a full-year basis, China will likely pass the U.S. in 2012, he said.

The estimates highlight the growing importance of China’s consumers to the global economy after the country passed the U.S. in 2009 as the largest auto market. Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), the world’s largest PC maker, indicated this month it may pull out of that business, while China’s Lenovo Group Ltd. (992) posted quarterly profit that almost doubled.

“This was going to happen sooner or later, just like with the car market, and the time has come,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc. in Tokyo. “China has a huge population and their income is rising.”

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