updated 06:30 pm EDT, Wed October 9, 2013
Lack of major upgrades in Mac business seen hurting Apple's US share
Data from Gartner and IDC's mostly unhappy picture of the overall US desktop and notebook PC market includes unusual bad news for Apple's Mac business. Shipments of Macs are down from last year -- though the two analysis firms disagree over how much. Two potential Apple upsides to the generally-dismal decline in global PC shipments, however, are the iPhone maker's growing international share of PCs, and its (uncounted in these surveys) strong iPad business -- but on Mac shipments in the US, Apple is falling behind its rivals.
The company spent years growing its US share at a faster rate than its competitors, but a slowing pace of significant Mac upgrades has softened demand alongside a general consumer trend to move away from traditional desktops (and even notebooks) and towards tablets like the iPad for typical-tasks type computing. With 2013 nearly over, Apple has only updated its MacBook Air and iMac lines with new Haswell processors this year, and has yet to offer a "major" redesign on any of its Mac products.
This will change sometime in the next few weeks as the long-awaited and overhauled Mac Pro debuts, but it comes at a point where workstation-class and desktop PCs are seeing large drops in demand, making it unclear how well Apple will do with the expensive, top-of-the-line desktop solution. However, as a result of Apple's lowered priority for the Mac business in favor of its top sellers, most other US PC makers managed small increases in the US market while Apple dropped share.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has long predicted that tablets would eventually outsell PCs, and added that Apple doesn't mind "cannibalizing" some of its notebook sales to tablets, since its own iPad is by far the dominant product in the tablet arena. Were tablets counted as computers for the purposes of IDC's and Gartner's reports, Apple would likely again be seen to be outpacing the industry in US growth -- but on its "purely Mac" product line, the company's US fortunes are in a slight decline year-over-year.
IDC reports that US Mac sales slid 11.2 percent from the year-ago third calendar quarter, while Gartner believes sales are only off by 2.3 percent. Apple is still said to be the third-largest PC maker in the US, with around 13.4 percent (Gartner) or 11.6 percent (IDC) of the domestic market for new machines. The figures are down roughly a percentage point from Apple's share last year. Globally, Apple isn't in the top five PC manufacturers in either company's analysis -- and on a worldwide scale, the PC "recession" continues with alarming drops in overall PC shipment numbers.
Apple is likely to turn its Mac shipments around somewhat in the holiday season, with the refreshed iMac and MacBook Air already out alongside highly-anticipated upgrades to the MacBook Pro line and the new Mac Pro, all said to be coming before year's end. However, the company's efforts are likely only to help its own US Mac business rather than reverse the overall trend, which has been clear for some time: "traditional" desktop and notebook PCs are slowing turning into a professional and enthusiast market, while consumers increasingly migrate to ultrabooks, tablets and phones for mainstream computing needs.
Indeed, Apple itself may have put another nail in the coffin of mainstream "traditional" PCs with its introduction of the first truly 64-bit mobile processor, the A7. Calling it a "desktop-class" chip, many have interpreted Apple's rapid evolution of the processor and recent comments as a sign that it will someday move its Mac products to future versions of the A-series.
Such a move, likely years away, would give Apple a significant differentiator between it and its rivals, allowing the company to closely tailor processors to the individual needs of each class of computer as it does with its iPhone and iPad -- already measured as the fastest such devices, beating even quad-core processors and graphics systems found in its rivals. In the short-term however, the battery life and other efficiencies brought about by both the addition of the Haswell Intel processor and additional boosts from the forthcoming OS X Mavericks may help Apple reverse its US downward Mac trend by further strengthening its notebook line in future quarters.