I suppose Steve Jobs is responsible. When he likened the PC to a truck and mobile computing gadgets, such as the iPad and iPhone, to a car, you had to think that he was reading the tea leaves of what the industry would be like in a few years.
Add to that the fact that Apple hasn’t really made any big Mac-related announcements of late. All recent Mac speed bumps have been heralded by little more than a press release. When the entry-level MacBook was updated a few weeks ago, it didn’t even merit that. The new model just appeared out of the blue in Apple’s online store.
More to the point, other than the Mac mini, which acquired an Apple TV look with an aluminum case, all of the model changes were fairly minor. Speedier processors, larger hard drives, more powerful graphic cards. Pricing was similar enough not to be significant, other than that controversial rise in the cost of a 2010 Mac mini.
At his WWDC keynote address, Steve Jobs seemed to pretend there was no such thing as a Mac. He never mentioned the subject, even though there were at least some workshops that catered to Mac OS X developers. It was mostly the mobile platform’s turn to shine.
Certainly sales of the iPad have already reached and perhaps somewhat exceeded the rate of new Macs, with over three million shipped in the first 80 days. There are also published reports that Apple is attempting to double the production rate, the better to at last catch up with backorders.
So where’s that leave the Mac? Is it truly yesterday’s news?
Well, not quite. According to a report emerging this week from the NPD Group, Mac retail sales in the U.S. jumped 35% in May over the previous year. That survey doesn’t include online sales, international sales and so on and so forth, but it does show a trend, which is that Macs are still moving at a pretty good clip ahead of the overall PC market, despite the fact that Apple appears to be ignoring them.
So if there is any cannibalization by the iPad, it appears to be minor, at least so far. This isn’t to say that Mac sales won’t be hurt in the long run, but not right now. Perhaps Apple has begun to feel that, at least for a while, the Mac can take care of itself with regular performance updates, and the mobile platform will drive traffic to the stores that’s sufficient to spur Mac sales because of the famous “halo effect.” Even the “Mac Versus PC” ads are history.
All right, I’m just guessing here, but it doesn’t appear that Apple isn’t doing anything overt to goose Mac sales. It’s just happening, no doubt because the larger PC universe is simply dead. There are no compelling new competing products, and, if you believe those dreadful TV ads, Windows 7 is only good for pinning document windows at the corners of the screen. Or at least that’s what Microsoft would have you believe.
However, Windows 7 is surely doing well enough in the business environment, where companies who avoided Vista like the plague are finally forced to upgrade simply because their existing hardware is too old. Besides, Windows 7 appears to address most of the serious problems that afflicted Vista, so might as well get with the program.
That is, of course, unless they jump to Macs instead, and Apple still maintains that 50% of new Mac purchases at their retail stores go to customers who are new to the platform. All this, of course, without any major initiative, or any initiative, to push Macs into the business market. That seems to be taking care of itself, as more and more executives go all or mostly Apple, and insist the IT departments deal with it.
On the long haul, it’s debatable whether all or most consumer PC users will migrate to a tablet-based device, such as the iPad. I tend to feel that an iPad actually does most of the things that a personal computer owner expects of a traditional PC. Only heavy-duty content creators will need their desktops and regular portable computers, at least for a while. In the meantime, the netbook market has stagnated.
Ultimately, if there’s enough demand, it’s possible that the folks who develop those traditional content creation apps, particularly Adobe and Quark, will begin to consider seriously whether iPad versions would make sense.
For now, the iPad is largely a consumption device, and surveys are showing that it’s a better read than an Amazon Kindle, so it’s quite likely a lot of the e-book business will come its way. But I wonder: Whatever happened to textbooks? After all, one of the great benefits of an iPad is to replace all the heavy school books that weigh down the typical student. So far at least, the traditional textbook publishers have made no announcements that things are about to change, though I suppose there’s still time before the next school year — except in Arizona and other states where it starts in August.
Some day, I do expect to report that Mac sales trends have begun to seem like today’s iPod. An aging product category catering to a diminishing market. But not yet.
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