Yet Another Look at Mac Sales Numbers

November 8th, 2017

It’s easy to forget when PC market surveys get it all wrong. The facts are simply ignored, as follow-up stories pretend it never happened.

So early in October, both Gartner and IDC released surveys of global PC sales. According to IDC, Mac sales totaled 4,901,000, representing a mere 0.3% growth over last year. Gartner, however, reported Mac sales at 4,613,000, representing a decrease of 5.6%.

It was all part of a story that confirmed the gradual erosion of PC sales around the planet. Indeed, were it not for an alleged sales increase from HP, the overall market would have shrunk even further. Apple’s reported decrease was in the middle of the pack according to Gartner, as was its tiny increase in the IDC report.

Now I won’t cover all the manufacturers, except to state one obvious fact: The Apple numbers were wrong by a huge margin! Worse, this was typical for other analysts who also had broken crystal balls, but this is not atypical for Macs.

Actual sales, according to Apple, totaled 5.4 million, an increase of 10.2% over the year-ago quarter. This represents an 8% share of the global market, and includes countries where the Mac doesn’t count for a whole lot.

So just what is fueling the fact that Mac sales are, more or less, on fire?

During the conference call with financial analysts last week, Apple CFO Luca Maestri give a significant reason for the Mac’s “unexpected” success, “…we are also seeing great traction for Mac in the enterprise market, with all-time record customer purchases in fiscal year 2017.”

I omitted the first part of the statement deliberately. Maestri attributed growth largely to “great demand for MacBook Pro.” Yes, that controversial professional Mac notebook that has been attacked relentlessly by the critics for many reasons, including the Touch Bar. When they were released last year, they were backordered for a while, and the skeptics claimed that it was more about the delay in delivering a new model than real demand for the refresh.

Clearly that wasn’t so.

That takes us to a Computerworld article that, aside from IDC corporate spin about its Mac sales miss, appears to recognize where Apple has made big gains with the Mac platform. But don’t forget that this publication, and IDC, are both owned by the same company, IDG.

Traditionally, Macs and the enterprise essentially existed on different planets. While Macs did well in the consumer marketplace, when businesses bought them, they were usually consigned to duty by creatives. The rest of a company’s employees used PCs, because Macs were otherwise regarded as toys.

But Apple has, in recent years, made huge conquests in the world of business, and this may become an even more significant factor going forward.

That takes it to a feature article I wrote last month for our weekly newsletter. I mentioned the perennial rivalry between Apple and IBM that existed from the day the Mac was introduced in 1984. Dedicated Mac users could cite chapter and verse about their favorite computer’s ease of use, reliability and security. But PC users didn’t care, and when Microsoft delivered a version of Windows that was, well, good enough, it was perceived as the death knell for the Mac.

In fact, the “Mac is dead” mantra persisted for years, and, until Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded, it might have come true. But I won’t go over a history that many of you know full well.

In short: In 2014, Apple and IBM cut a deal to build custom mobile apps for iOS. Over time, Macs were offered to IBM employees in increasing numbers. After IBM had a chance to evaluate its Mac experience, they reported they cost $273 to $543 less than PCs in upkeep costs, despite the higher purchase price.

Yes, we were right all along. Sure, Macs can give trouble, and I used to get paid to help solve those problems before the Apple Store and the Genius Bar, with free support, essentially put me out of business. macOS updates sometimes ship with niggling bugs, and there have been hardware repair programs, extended warranties, to address serious defects.

But it’s still worse for PCs.

It also appears that Apple’s success with IBM is just the tip of the iceberg. In recent months, Apple has made deals to provide Macs, iPhones and iPads for such companies as Delta Air Lines, GE, and even Walmart.

You’ll also notice that recent versions of macOS will run on Macs at least seven years old, which means that businesses can keep them longer and be assured they will be fully supported with OS and critical security updates.

It’s true that consumers tend to hold onto their computers longer than they used to. While this is not an example of a scientific survey, many of the people I talk to regularly, consumers and even fellow tech reporters, keep their Macs a lot longer nowadays. This may be, in part, due to the fact that refreshes are usually less significant, but it’s also true that a Mac that’s a few years old can still run great with the newest macOS. Sure, maybe a few hardware features aren’t supported, but that’s usually not a serious impediment for most users.

So Apple has to rely more on new sales, rather than replacements, to help the Mac prosper. That they are succeeding makes it an even more significant development.

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