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Report: Mac users 4x more 'engaged' than Windows users

updated 10:32 pm EST, Thu February 20, 2014

More likely to upgrade, stay up-to-date on OS, software

Mac users are almost four times more likely to upgrade to the latest version of OS X than Windows users are, and that 41.7 percent of current Mac users can be defined as "engaged" (meaning, among other things, that they run up-to-date software and OS versions as well as use the Internet frequently), compared to just 11.6 percent of Windows users who meet the same criteria. Overall, Macs account for nearly a quarter of the "up-to-date" computer user market.

Computerworld's Jonny Evans took recent statistics from a combination of various analyst estimates along with NetApplications data on desktop market share and found that Windows 8 (at around 175 million users) and all recent versions of OS X (at around 127 million users) -- both figures are averages from a low-high range -- are closer than most consumers would have imagined. On drilling down into the figures, however, Evans discovered that only a fraction (not quite 12 percent) of the overall Windows base has been "persuaded to upgrade" to the latest version, meaning that since the release of XP in 2001, they've had to (or wanted to) buy a machine with running Windows 8. By comparison, Apple has about 41.7 percent of its base using the most recent version of OS X.

This still gives Windows 8 a significant advantage, with three times more users than those running OS X Mavericks -- but when one focuses on only those computers that are running fully "up-to-date" OS and software, the Windows lead is far smaller than when all versions of both operating systems are counted. In terms of net traffic among just Windows 8 and Mavericks, Apple's OS accounts for nearly a quarter of the PCs used to access the Internet.

Apple's success in growing its legion of what Evans calls "engaged" users (that is, owners of recent machines that stay up-to-date on software and OSes and heavily utilize the Internet) is due to a combination of factors, but a big one is Microsoft's failure to keep its enormous base "engaged." Some 30 percent of the Windows userbase is still running Windows XP, released in 2001. Almost 48 percent are on Windows 7, the previous major release. Only 10.58 percent of Windows computers run the latest Windows 8 software, despite at least 60 percent of the userbase being on machines that could run it if they wished to.

Negative reaction to the changes in Windows 8 (having followed on the heels of tepid acceptance of Windows 7, following the outright hostility to Windows Vista) has continued to erode the active Windows userbase, leaving customers more and more open to finding an alternative -- the most popular of which is the Mac (among traditional computers). At the same time, many consumers are abandoning traditional desktops (in particular) and notebooks (to a lesser degree) altogether, relying increasingly on smartphones, tablets and "phablets" to handle the bulk of their lighter computing needs. In essence, Windows users are slowly jumping ship to Android, iOS, and Macs (in that order).

This trend has hurt Microsoft far more than Apple, though Apple's Mac business has also suffered -- in the third calendar quarter of 2013, the company reported an unprecedented drop in Mac demand (whereas Mac growth usually outpaces growth of the PC industry's average, and has done for years). While demand bounced back in the holiday quarter, Mac growth is only a trickle compared to the growth of Apple's iPhone and iPad devices. For PC makers overall, demand in both the enterprise and consumer sector is down -- with little hope of a reversal in buying patterns, and a general sense that the desktop PC era peaked a few years ago. Apple, more than almost all of the traditional PC makers, is insulated from the fall in PC sales through its strong mobile device lineup.

What's important, Evans argues, is not that Macs will never overtake PCs, but that Microsoft's mobile business has largely failed to find an audience -- leaving the Redmond giant with a slowly-dwindling audience for its core product, Windows. Apple, in the meantime, has made its OS X product work more closely with its iOS counterpart -- and while not planning to fuse the two, has made it easy for OS X users to adopt and adapt to iOS (and, Apple hopes, vice-versa), and already has a dominant position in the PC's likely replacement, the tablet.

Keeping customers engaged, he says, is key to leadling a growing pool of customers that tend to buy the latest devices, anticipate any new devices that come to market, don't tend to stray to other competitors into the future. Staying up-to-date on software also benefits third-party developers, which strengthens the application market for those platforms, and users.

by MacNN Staff



  1. PeterParker

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 10-17-00

    Well, Microsoft relies so heavily on the Windows business the can't just give it away for free either. That's a paradigm shft, too...

  1. fjRon

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-20-12

    Great article, but here's an article from the great SciFi writer Orson Scott Card, a diehard Windows fan but writes about the suicide of Windows (forgive him for endorsing Android).

  1. Fonejacker

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-11-10

    From my own experience, your average Mac user, is a computer expert, compared to your average PC user. It never ceases to amaze me, that PC users, still don't know you can copy and paste a PDF. Most PC users, can switch it on, use 2 or 3 apps, and can switch it off. None of them know where to start, to look for solutions to simple problems. They also call Tech Support, without bothering to learn anything about PCs. Just my observation working in both PC and Mac environments.

  1. DCJ001

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 10-28-07

    The headline of this article is misleading. You are ignorant of the simple math that is involved here. 41.6 is almost four times as many as 11.6. 41.6 is also almost three times more than 11.6.

    If you believe that four times more than 11.6 is 41.6, how much is three times more than 11.6, two times more than 11.6, and one time more than 11.6?

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    PC users switch their machines off? Where is this haven of responsible users? I must move there! ;)

  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    "Keeping customers engaged, he says, is key to leadling a growing pool of customers that tend to buy the latest devices, anticipate any new devices that come to market, don't tend to stray to other competitors into the future."

    Well I was one of the 'engaged' upgraders that friends called vs apple for advice/support, but now apple breaks workflow every year with forced migrations for any new hardware purchases...

    How insanely great is that?

    Is it possible windows users are actually more engaged with productive work than with their os & hardware?

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Yes, I remember when they forced me to upgrade Snow Leopard, and I ... oh wait no that never happened. In fact I've never been forced to migrate to anything. Well ... I suppose those evil software developers who keep needing more RAM for their apps forced me to buy and install more RAM ... and I suppose security issues force me to upgrade Java and Flash nearly constantly ... but Apple? Apple's never "forced" me to do anything. Some people have a serious #firstworldproblems #senseofentitlement and haven't quite gotten the whole "change is an inherent part of an evolving process" ... hope the sand at least tastes good ...

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    DCJ001: if 11.6 is a baseline, then 11.6 is 100 percent, 23.2 is 200 percent, 34.8 is 300 percent and 46.4 is 400 percent, ie four times as engaged as the baseline group. So it's not quite "four times" as engaged but nearly so. Evans is clearly rounding there, but apart from that I don't see an issue with the math. It's statistics, not an exact science. :)

  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    ...last time I checked any hardware purchase from apple required the latest os, vs a more fully debugged os that might have shipped even a month prior...

    "Staying up-to-date on software benefits third-party developers"...

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    "last time I checked any hardware purchase from apple required the latest os"

    And in what bygone year was this not the case? Oh wait, none ever! Oh yeah, that's right!

    If you want to keep your head buried in the past, why that's fine! You keep using your old machine, with your old OS and your old software as *long as you like.* But you are *not allowed* to complain that Apple has the nerve to keep improving its machines and its software and its security and its capabilities with newer devices. You make a *choice* when you decide to stick with old software and old OS versions *not* to take advantage of improvements, in exactly the same way you make a *choice* not to use any other improved product because you happen to prefer the old one.

    We all do this in one way or another. I made a *choice* not to upgrade my CS3 suite because it met my modest needs (still does) and continues to run in Mavericks (for which I am grateful, but not *entitled to* as you seem to think you are). At some point that will stop (either I will outgrow it, or no longer need it, or decide to upgrade), and that's fine. I certainly got my money out of it, just as I did with AppleWorks, Quark, my old 6100, my 7300, my black MacBook from 2007. Time marches on, and changes are required from time to time. You can put them off for a while, but you can't ultimately duck it.

    The idea that Apple "forces" you to upgrade is laughable on its face, but if you really feel that way, I look forward to your report from the golden land of Windows XP -- oh wait, Adobe just dropped support for XP (and Vista! OH NOES!!) and most other developers (including MS) are following suit ... oh well, hey Linux seems stuck in the 90s, maybe you'll find happiness there ... cuz its always Apple's fault, never the user's bad attitude or ignorance, right? :D

  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    ...I'll reiterate again for the cognitively challenged - the choice (or need) to buy new (or even replacement) apple hardware usually 'forces' a requirement to run the latest MacOS, esp if Apple support is desired... While it has been that way 'forever', more recently the release interval has been reduced from generally biannually to annual:

    The excellent orson/hatrack article describes as 'suicide' the decision to sunset a significant percentage of the functional windows user base. I won't mention the author's preferred WinOS... :)

    This article may be of interest to the MacOS futurist(s):

  1. davoud

    Junior Member

    Joined: 01-14-05

    There is some ill chosen wording in this story. "Mac users are almost four times more likely to upgrade to the latest version of OS X than Windows users are..."

    Windows users have a zero percent likelihood of upgrading to the latest version of OS X.

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