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  • The Mac Hardware Report: Back to 5%

    July 23rd, 2005

    I tremendously enjoy reading those claims that Apple's sales are dipping year after year, not because I want Apple to fail. Clearly I don't. But I enjoy watching the embarrassment as the people who make those claims have to rethink their prophecies of doom. So it was with great interest that I learned that Apple's sales reached an estimated 4.5% or 4.7% in the U.S. last quarter. That puts Macs in the number four slot behind Dell, HP and the resurrected Gateway (awful commercials notwithstanding).

    Why the disparity? While it depends on the source, but I'll be conservative and stick with the IDC figures for the time being. For the rest of the world, it's less than 3.7%. How much less? Well, Fujitsu/Fujitsu Siemens has 3.7% and Apple lies within the "Other" category, but you can probably peg it at better than 3% without being too far off the mark.

    At the very least, folks who claim that Apple has less than 2% of the market will have to break out their calculators and recheck their figures. No, it's not a fluke quarter either. Apple's market share was on the rise in the previous quarter as well. But this one is more significant, not only because Apple kept up the pace, but because of the apparent lack of impact of the switch to Intel processors on sales. I say apparent, because if some folks had not decided to remain on the sidelines until the next great processor transaction is over and done with, maybe the sales would have reached or exceeded 5%. Your guess is as good as mine.

    The real proof is in the pudding, and this quarter will show whether Apple can truly sustain the momentum. Certainly all the good news ought to encourage people who are on the fence, wondering whether the buying a new Mac now is worth it or not. The naysayers who have been proclaiming Apple dead and buried, or at the very least irrelevant, may be forced to change their ways, or maybe hope that if they repeat the lie often enough, fiction will turn to fact.

    As far as Apple is concerned, it's taking the cautious route, predicting flat sales during the back-to-school season. The Wall Street analysts who are usually beating up on Apple are far more optimistic, and that is a change of tactics. What's more, if sales exceed Apple's expectations, or at least its public expectations, the financial picture simply looks that much better.

    My feeling about the impact of the Intel migration is that, once the furor dies down, people will just get back to business and not allow such silly concerns to influence their purchase decisions. If we take the logic of holding off a purchase of a new Mac to its ultimate conclusion, switching to a different brand of hard drive or optical drive ought to be just as significant, but, of course, Apple buys those parts from different suppliers on a routine basis.

    The big question, of course, is whether it's possible for Apple to ever regain the double digit market share it possessed all those years ago. That is, before the pundits declared the company irrelevant. Of course, there are no conspiracies at work here. Apple has been its own worst enemy over the years. At one time, it might have actually dominated the PC market in almost the same fashion as it does in the digital music player arena, but the company was its own worst enemy. The missteps have been well documented in both articles and books, and I don't need to revisit the sordid history.

    So how is Apple rewriting history? Well, the commentators point to the alleged "halo" effect that surrounds the incredible popularity of the iPod. Just expose someone to Apple's elegant industrial designs and simple user interface, and they will be tempted to try another product, and in that case it's a Mac. Despite the claims that sales of the Mac mini were tepid, the cheapest Mac does appear to be a factor in Apple's rising computer sales.

    Of course the other factor is the ongoing instability and security concerns of the Windows platform. The nationwide Mac switcher campaign may have fallen on its face, but it appears to be continuing in a far more subtle fashion, at least at the Apple Store, where would-be iPod buyers get a chance to experience Macs in a comfortable environment, free of pressure from ignorant salespeople.

    But even if the move to Intel has little or no impact on sales of new Macs, there are some clouds on the horizon. It's clear that Microsoft is revving up the Longhorn publicity machine. Already, we're hearing of great performance increases in the forthcoming beta 1 version, although those increases appear to lie largely in the area of boot time, wake time from the Windows equivalent of Sleep mode, and the installation process. None of that makes your applications run any faster. Perhaps Microsoft hopes, with enough smoke and mirrors, nobody will notice the fine print.

    It all goes to show, however, that Apple can't rest on its laurels. The job only gets harder from here.



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