You have to expect that Apple can do no wrong — with the possible exception of the lame response to the original complaints about the iPhone 4’s notorious grip of death. The stock price continues to hit record numbers, and industry analysts are falling over themselves trying to come up with higher and higher estimates for iPhone, iPad and, of course, Mac sales.
While PC sales didn’t grow as fast as the industry hoped this summer, it may well be that Apple had blowout numbers of new Macs. I’ve seen estimates from the low three million range, hardly a record, to the mid-four million plateau.
Consider that, ten years ago, Apple was lucky to best 300,000 Macs a quarter, and you can see how fast the the platform has grown, even though, for the most part, promotional efforts appear to have been largely dormant. The cute and funny Mac versus PC campaign is history, and new Macs are usually heralded with little more than a press release, and perhaps a few quick interviews by Apple executives.
Add to that the fact that the Mac OS was barely on the radar during the last WWDC, and you can well understand why some tech rabble-rousers began to predict that Mac’s best days were history, that the platform had plateaued, and it will be all downhill from here on.
When it comes to Apple, Inc., the analysts and the pundits almost always “misunderestimate” the company, which is truly unfortunate, because they lose their credibility.
As far as the Mac platform is concerned, consider that Microsoft is spending loads of money with those perfectly stupid ads that do little but demonstrate that the most compelling feature of Windows 7 is the ability to pin documents in the corners of the screen. I suspect most people, when confronted with those ads, might wish for a DVR so they can Fast Forward (assuming they don’t have one), or would prefer to simply change the channel.
At one time, it was believed that the state of the economy would convince people to buy cheaper gear. That may explain the initial attraction of netbooks until, of course, people actually used them, and realized they were poor substitutes for full-fledged note-books. Many of the cheap PC desktops that get top reviews from Consumer Reports are provably unsuitable for anything but basic tasks; you need powerful hardware for “real” work, and suddenly Macs aren’t so expensive after all.
Now to be perfectly honest, I do not pretend to know if the current PC sales slowdown is due to the state of the economy, buyer’s remorse, a combination of these reasons, or none of them. At the same time, Apple continues to defy gravity. With minimal promotion, Macs continue to sell extremely well.
Of course, that doesn’t explain the wide variation of the projected sales figures. I would hope that industry analysts are performing or consulting some sort of sampling from Mac dealers just to see how fast the boxes are moving off the shelves. Otherwise, their figures, even if some turn out to be close to the mark, are worth next to nothing. Tea leaves — or tossing darts in the air — would work as well.
Assuming Macs just completed a blow-out quarter, ostensibly due to the back-to-school promotions, not to mention the release of new desktops, you have to wonder when the online chatter will return in full force to Apple’s “first” product lineup.
For example, what’s happening with the MacBook Air, which hasn’t received an update since last year? Some rumor sites are reporting that dealer supplies are limited, something that usually occurs when a model refresh is in the offing. What’s more, Apple has a history of releasing hardware upgrades in October, which may also portend a possible minor refresh for the MacBook and MacBook Pro.
If the MacBook Air doesn’t simply vanish, you wonder where it might be positioned, in light of the tremendous success of the iPad. Other than the extremely thin and light form factor, the MacBook Air is a poor cousin to the far cheaper MacBook. Is saving a pound or two worth the extra cost?
One report has it that Apple is readying an 11.6-inch version, but at what price point? All things being equal, a smaller display ought to mean a device that’s actually cheaper than the MacBook. Indeed, if a revised MacBook Air hit the scales at $799 or $899 per copy, that might present a tremendous boost to holiday sales.
The iPad exists in a separate universe, so it may not impact sales of that product. On the other hand, a cheaper Mac might cannibalize sales from the regular MacBook, although a sale is a sale. In the end, the smaller screen might be too small for some users, but would represent a potential sales goldmine, particularly for folks upgrading from netbooks who don’t have iPads in their sites.
The biggest mistake, I think, would be for Apple to price a revitalized MacBook Air way above $1,000. That may deliver decent profits, but unit sales would remain modest.
Regardless, I’m more curious than ever to see how the Mac sales numbers pan out, and we’ll all know next week when Apple spills the beans.
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