One of the more telling statistics from Apple’s quarterly financials this week is the fact that Mac sales are still growing ahead of the overall PC industry quarter after quarter. This time, Apple recorded a 28% sales boost over the same quarter last year, while the PC industry remained flat. Now maybe such arcane issues as how many Macs were sold isn’t terribly important to you, but the trends are fascinating.
First and foremost is the fact that most Mac hardware updates these days aren’t touted with special media events, but with simple press releases. Yes, there are signs that a refresh might be coming, usually signaled by a drop in inventories, or messages received by dealers and distributors not to place new orders for existing product. Perhaps Apple feeds a few stories under “deep background” to the media to fuel demand, but the roll out tends to be otherwise relatively low-key.
Despite that, the latest and greatest MacBook Pro family, along with last year’s major upgrade to the MacBook Air (which did earn a media event), evidently resulted in extremely high sales. The iMac is reportedly doing well too, and there are rumors afoot that its refresh, incorporating the new Intel Sandy Bridge processors and the Thunderbolt peripheral port, will arrive in the next few weeks.
But why are PC sales stalling and Mac sales soaring? Well, when I asked Stephen Baker, a VP for the NPD Group, about this, he said the PC industry was coming off huge demand for upgrades, as more and more customers were buying new gear equipped with Windows 7. Certainly, after the Windows Vista debacle, the new OS must have been a revelation, since it seems largely freed of the ills that impacted Vista’s acceptance.
At the same time, if PC demand flattens, where’s that put Apple? Is Apple to be considered immune to the perils of the PC market? Or does Apple play in a different sandbox? Probably the latter, because Apple has gone through several years of growing the Mac marketplace ahead of most PC makers. Well, some of the latter did get huge boosts for a time at the low end because of the short-lived advance of the netbook.
There are also suggestions that PC sales are stumbling because of demand for the iPad. Baker places the main impact in the mid-range of the PC notebook market, rather than the far cheaper netbooks. Regardless, if anything, Apple’s mobile gadgets are building a collective “halo effect” that is luring more and more customers to the Mac. Certainly, the smoothly integrated ecosystem and the reputed freedom from serious malware has helped, and there doesn’t seem a need for those Mac versus PC ads anymore. Apple seems to have moved past that.
Certainly Apple has plenty of room to grow their portion of the PC universe. Market share remains in the single digits for the most part around the world, so Apple may have little place to go but up so long as they can keep he growth curve ahead of the industry. More to the point, while the tech media raves about the newest developments on a Mac notebook, such as the increasing availability of solid state drives, and Thunderbolt, when was the last time anyone made a big deal of a new PC from the likes of Dell or HP, the market leaders?
For years, PCs have largely been commodity products, with little to distinguish one model from the next. Usually, a PC builder will offer loads of verisons with tiny, often indistinguishable, differences in an effort to coax sales out of every nook and cranny in the market. Having so many choices, however, is apt to confuse all but the most technically savvy customers. Just remember what happened to Apple years ago when there were so many Performa models, even Apple’s executives couldn’t figure out which was which.
By having very few models, along with strictly a modest set of build-to-order options, Mac users have little difficulty figuring out what model might suit them best. I challenge anyone, without a scorecard or advice from an expert, to make an easy selection at Dell’s site among the clutter.
Worse, the more models a company offers, the smaller number of identical components are ordered, which means each unit is apt to cost more to build. Apple cleverly leverages many of the same parts across as many products as possible, taking advantage of the economies of scale. As many of you know, when it comes to mobile gadgets, Apple has used similar parts in iPads, iPhones, and so forth and so on. The new components in the iPad 2, for example, will clearly appear in the next iPhone, whether it’s an iPhone 5 or an iPhone 4GS.
Further, Apple is making a smart decision with Mac OS X Lion by adding iOS-inspired features. That will help ease the Mac learning curve for new converts, not to mention boosting sales prospects. Yes, some industry pundits still insist Apple needs to build a cheap Mac — well cheaper than the $699 Mac mini. But Apple clearly has other ideas, and the sales figures to prove they are absolutely right.
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