Is the Mac Falling Behind Windows?

January 26th, 2017

If you can believe recent sales estimates from Gartner, Mac sales over the past year fell about twice as much as the average for PC sales. This may be particularly disconcerting, since Apple has long claimed that the rate of growth of the Mac has exceeded the overall PC market. That was mostly true until the last year;

Some suggest Mac sales are dropping because Apple has lost interest in the platform, even though it delivers revenue of over $20 billion per year. To most companies, that would be an extraordinary amount of money, but it’s perceived as relatively tiny compared to the iPhone. But what about the iPad, where revenue was slightly less in the September quarter?

Well, you’ve got me there. There hasn’t been an iPad update since spring, when a 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro was launched. iPad sales have been consistently on the down side for a while, so is Apple also ignoring that product?

When it comes to Macs, it is true that sales did not decrease as much for other PC makers. They were actually slightly higher for Dell. But there’s not much in the way of real innovation among the largest PC box makers. It’s mostly the same old stuff they’ve sold for years, with up-to-date parts, so it’s not as if there something altogether new about their PCs.

All right, maybe Microsoft is doing something different. Take the Surface Studio, which is an all-in-one desktop  sporting a 28-inch touchscreen display on a flexible arm that be manipulated in an almost infinite number of ways. Supposedly this will be a boon for artists and CAD, and it’s true this machine has gotten pretty good reviews overall. But at a starting price of $3,000, it sits far above the entry-level price of the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. That’s Apple’s nearest potential competitor though, of course, there is no touchscreen and there never will be.

At least Microsoft appears to be trying to do something to advance the state of the art, or at least expand its concept of a PC with touchscreen. It’s hard to see whether such a specialized device as the Studio will be flying off the shelves, but I suppose there’s the possibility Microsoft will move a decent number of them to power users, and thus earn high profits in the same league as Apple.

Does Apple have a response?

Well, Apple will give us the old refrigerator and toaster oven metaphor, that touchscreens aren’t appropriate for a personal computer. Apple’s solution is the Touch Bar, a key feature of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro that puts an OLED touchscreen in place of the traditional function keys. Call it function keys on steroids if you like, but it means that you need not raise your hands onto the screen for any input functions. So maybe they care about muscle strain?

The long-term success of this scheme may be a great unknown, but surveys of Mac sales indicate that Apple managed to grow its market in the December quarter. So it may well be that the dearth of new models earlier this year had its impact. But I wonder how many people who buy Macs are plugged in to news of the latest and greatest models. Or it may be that the new MacBook Pros were — despite all the controversy about the higher price, the features, battery performance and all — so compelling that customers were anxious to buy them.

If that’s the case, will new the promised Mac desktops this year — and perhaps a 2017 version of the MacBook — continue to fuel sales from customers who were sitting on the sidelines waiting for something new and different? What sort of differences does Apple need to make anyway? Or are customers happy enough with Windows 10 not to consider a Mac switch as readily as they used to.

Another possibility is that some businesses who avoided buying PCs because of all of the Windows 8 flaws were willing to accept Windows 10 as business ready. That would boost purchases of gear from companies for whom Macs are not on the radar, or where Macs occupy only a small portion of the total number of computers in use.

I suppose it’s a lot easier to suggest that the Mac is flailing and that it’s back to niche status after sitting in the number four or five position on the global market for a while. No doubt the future trends of PC sales will remain in flux, and Apple’s share will also vary from quarter to quarter.

It’s easier to suggest Apple is in trouble. But most PC makers have faced falling sales to one extent or another. Overall, according to Gartner, global PC shipments have declined for the last five years. During most of those years, Apple managed small increases for the most part. The days of stellar growth are long gone, and for most, it’s going to be downhill from here on. But the pace is still relatively slow, despite the fact that loads and loads of smartphones and tablets have, to many, replaced PCs entirely.

As to Apple, actual figures will be released on Tuesday, January 31st. Even if the sales increase is confirmed, it’ll probably take another quarter or two to see if this represents a trend.

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6 Responses to “Is the Mac Falling Behind Windows?”

  1. DaveD says:

    The overall sales trend for PCs is downward based on the last five years of data. What we have are PC makers taking or losing sales from one another. I read that smaller PC makers are looking for a buyer of their businesses.

    The Mac is different from the other PCs in design, quality and an OS. Apple wants to make money from Macs and positioned the sales in the higher end of the market. But, PC makers other than Microsoft are making Mac lookalikes. If the tech punditry declared Mac as a niche player than the Surface is even more so.

    I see the slowing of Mac sales is coming from not being able to take sales from other PC makers and one based on my Mac experience. My most current Mac is a 2012 11-inch MacBook Air running El Capitan. It is a fine notebook, hardware-wise, and more memory (8 GB minimum) and a larger SSD would make it even better. The problem is the OS. Yosemite was horrible at the start, but got way better at the end. I stayed with Yosemite and ended pushing the upgrade to El Capitan back to near its final update. I have been using El Capitan for six months. While El Capitan has been more stable from the beginning and a few apps that were crash happy in Yosemite are working well today, the Mac needs to be restarted every seven to ten days. Two indications, the system sound effects would disappear and memory bloat from Safari, WindowServer, and three third-party apps.

    What I am suggesting is that while lack of new hardware may be what is stifling Mac sales, the OS quality and lost of good user experience are playing a role among Mac owners looking to upgrade.

  2. Jim Polaski says:

    Hi Gene,

    Today’s piece “Is the Mac Falling Behind Windows?” omitted one fact which perhaps is in this mix. Namely, the results IBM has had switching to Macs which appears to have been somewhat ignored. Here is a reference, ( where IBM is claiming $270 savings per user and users like having more control over their platform.

    As good as this is, it seems outside of IBM where is there acknowledgement of this kind of savings with regard to the average user? This certainly offsets the notion that Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs where for years, or is it decades, a race to the bottom of the profit measuring meter which is often how the average consumer buys which is by price.

    I think the decision of what computer to buy, for the average computer is largely a cost based decision. Some professionals in the Mac strongholds have switched due to costs and of course the new Mac Pro cylinder. They don’t want all the outboard boxes, etc. for other cards etc. The older Mac Pros in the aluminum case were easy to service, add drives, RAM, all those things. Any negative was perhaps weight and bulk, you can’t have light and not bulky without some compromise which is perhaps the Mac Cylinder.

    Thanks for listening, just my > $.02

    (Btw, I was a good friend to my old buddy Don Crabb and was his “DigitalCzar” on his WGN am radio program many years ago before his untimely passing.)

    • I’ve mentioned the IBM matter before. But it’s still one company with tens of thousands rather than millions of computers. On the long term, though I agree it’s a huge positive.

      I knew Don Crabb slightly. Glad to meet you.


  3. David Keller says:

    Apple needs to discontinue closing their machines to upgrades. Everything is soldered. Its unfortunate you can’t add a drive or ram. They basically force you buy a computer either loaded or run the risk of your computer being underpowered in the the future. That’s a little sad for a system that costs twice what PC’s do.

    • Twice as much? Have you priced a Microsoft Surface lately?


    • Jim Polaski says:

      Computer OEM’s are driven to lighter, thinner, and so on with better screens, more RAM and so on. To do so requires different manufacturing tech. One of those downsides is that stuff is soldered rather than socketed which is thicker and heavier.

      IOW, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!.

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