updated 06:20 pm EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
Apple uses relative growth vs Microsoft
Apple during its Let's Talk iPhone event claimed to have outpaced Microsoft in terms of practical OS adoption. In contextualizing six million downloads of Mac OS X Lion, CEO Tim Cook claimed that the Mac's relative adoption rate was much faster, taking two weeks to reach 10 percent of the user base where Microsoft took 20. Downloads helped lead to the faster growth, he said.
The adoption rate is somewhat misleading as it masks absolute volume. Apple's existing, total Mac user base isn't clear, but it's known to still be well below that of Windows. While approaching the Windows 7 two-year anniversary, Microsoft noted that it had shipped 400 million copies of Windows 7. To get to 10 percent for Microsoft would require tens of millions of sales that were considered unlikely to happen in just two weeks.
Analysts at Gartner still expect 94 percent of new PCs this year to use Microsoft's current OS.
The differences nonetheless underscore differences in philosophy between the companies for audience. Although Apple has little traction in corporations with Macs, this also lets it upgrade the OS faster, as it can expect that more of its user base is able and willing. Microsoft's corporate base gives it much larger share but also holds it back, as many companies are afraid to use new operating systems; some companies still refuse to upgrade past Windows XP more than a decade after its release. Most Windows owners tend to upgrade only when they get a new PC, years later, where Mac users are more likely to upgrade mid-cycle.
Technology price have their own influences. Microsoft has Windows 7 as a downloadable option, but has buried it in its pages and requires a relatively experienced user to install. Apple makes it available directly from the Mac App Store and for awhile only allowed downloads, pushing many to try who might have opted for the more expensive but conventional USB stick. Apple as a hardware-driven company can also afford to sell Lion for $30 where Microsoft, for whom Windows is still its single-most important business, is forced to charge multiple times more.
Apple also continues to have better performance than the industry and is still expected to grow 15 percent or more in the near future where the general PC field may grow just 3.8 percent this year, according to Gartner. It claimed rare absolute model leads at the October 4 keynote, pointing out that the iMac and MacBook Pro were the top-selling individual computer models in the US.