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Yes, Folks, Macs Are Still Successful!

Some foolish blogger the other day wrote an inane piece claiming that I said that the Mac Pro would soon be history. For the benefit of those who haven’t read these columns regularly, and even for those who have, I have never made such a claim.

I have said that there may be a time in the distant future when there won’t be a need for a desktop workstation from Apple, but that is not something we can expect right now.

What’s more interesting, however, is that, despite spending very little money to promote Macs, Apple managed to sell 3.47 million of them in the last quarter, which is a company record. You can parse that any way you wish, except that more than 70% of those sales were portables. Other than the recent Mac mini revision, there have been no new Mac desktops since last fall’s introduction of the hot-selling iMac. Even that Mac Pro is sadly in need of an update, and serious content creators are depending on the recent introduction of new Intel Xeon chips as reason to expect a near-term speed bump.

Indeed, even the iMac was introduced with nothing more than a press release. The last MacBook upgrade a few weeks back simply appeared at Apple’s Web site. There was no announcement, although the nature of the update was quite minor in the scheme of things. The big improvement was to gaming performance, with somewhat better battery life.

Sadly, those cute “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads are now history. But perhaps Apple’s bean counters decided that the campaign wasn’t productive enough in terms of new Mac sales or perhaps other methods are faring better.

This is something implied by Apple COO Tim Cook at Tuesday afternoon’s conference call with financial analysts, citing again the famous “halo” effect that supposedly has convinced iPhone and iPod users to buy new Macs.

The real question, though, is whether the iPad is also delivering more Mac sales, or cannibalizing them. In other words, of the 3.27 iPads sold in its first quarter on sale, how many of those purchases would have otherwise gone to Macs? Ever the bob and weave artist, Cook deflected this to the possibility of grabbing more PC sales instead.

Maybe that’s partly true, witness the fact that netbook sales have evidently collapsed since the iPad became available. Whether there’s a connection, I don’t pretend to know. It may well be that the people who bought those shrunken note-books realized they were pathetic products and decided they should get a full-sized note-book instead. Or perhaps they will gravitate to Macs or iPads.

Of course, the continued success of Macs without marketing augers will for the platform. Even with the vast sales gains, Apple has lots of room to grow. Macs still represent a low single digit share of the worldwide market overall, and other PC makers seem to largely take sales from one another, although the numbers are on the upside again. However, a lot of that may be due to the fact that home and business users finally believe they can afford to put older computers out to pasture and replace them. So the industry is not getting more new customers so much as selling product to the existing user base.

The potential new customers might indeed be buying Macs, iPads, or just relying on a smartphone for Internet access, gaming and that occasional productivity app.

When it comes to smartphones, it’s still the wild west out there. There are many competitors fighting for their places in the sun. Even if the Android OS surpasses the iPhone in the near future, remember that it is a comparison that includes many companies, many models and lots of carriers versus one company with a single product line and, in the U.S. at least, support from a single wireless provider.

On the long haul, I still believe that the PC era is coming to a close for most people. There will certainly be the need for traditional desktops and note-books for serious business users and content creators for a number of years. But a lot of people will find that tablets, be it the iPad or something else, will fulfill all or most of the needs that were formerly the province of a personal computer.

Smartphones will also assume more and more computing features and, for those who can handle the tiny screens, will also replace the PC in some instances. I know my iPhone has for me. I am able to keep it on my night table, and refer to it late in the evening or early in the morning when I need to check a message, or, if I can’t get back to sleep, engage in some casual Internet surfing.

Indeed, it’s also possible that tomorrow’s Mac will morph into something that encompasses an iPad and what we’ve come to recognize as a regular computer. Or maybe some undreamed of product will arrive that replaces all of them.