By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
February 13, 2012

Down 6% in 2011, that’s where, according to the NPD Group

If it weren’t for tablets and mobile phones, 2011 would have been a miserable year for the U.S. consumer electronics industry.

Total U.S. retail sales for the year were $144 billion, down 1% from 2010, according to a report issued Monday by the NPD Group.

That might not sound too bad. But sales of PCs, TVs and video game hardware were all down, and sales of mobile phone hardly grew at all.

Only tablets experienced robust growth — accounting for 10.7% of U.S. consumer electronic sales, up from 5.1% in 2010. And because nearly all those tablets were iPads –and a lot of those mobiles phones were iPhones — Apple (AAPL) single-handedly saved the industry from what would have otherwise been, according to NPD, a humiliating 6% decline.

“U.S. hardware sales growth is becoming harder and harder to achieve at the broad industry level,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD. “Sales outside of the top five categories fell by 8 percent in 2011 as consumers shifted spending from older technologies to a narrow range of products.”

NPD’s press release went on to single out Apple:

“Apple benefited from this shift as it was the leading consumer electronics brand for the second year in a row. Among the top five brands Apple was the only one to experience a sales increase, posting a 36 percent rise over 2010.  By the critical fourth quarter Apple accounted for 19 percent of all sales dollars, almost twice as much as number two Hewlett-Packard.”

Below: NPD’s spreadsheet comparing the growth (and decline) of the top five U.S. brands.

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