The rise of tablets and smartphones may be contributing to the decline of the PC market as a whole. But for years now, Apple's Mac lineup has continued to flourish. If you look at the long-term trends of Apple's quarterly numbers, unit sales of the company's desktops and laptops grew steadily year by year over the past decade—every year, that is, until the end of 2012. The most recent numbers indicate that the Mac, like other PCs, is finally feeling the impact of the so-called tablet revolution.
Unit sales: On the up and up
In 2003, Apple shipped just over 3 million Macs worldwide, most of them desktops, and they accounted for more than 72 percent of Apple's overall revenue. Jump ahead to Apple's 2011-2012 financial year (FY12), when the company sold more than 18 million Macs: Mac sales then accounted for less than 15 percent of Apple's bottom line.
How does that happen? The biggest shift in Apple's business, of course, was the advent of iOS. Beginning with the iPhone in 2007 and followed by the iPad three years later, Apple set off a tectonic shift in personal computing—a change that is still wreaking havoc on the entire PC market as well as on Apple itself.
How big is that shift? For the five years leading up to and including 2008, the year when iPhone sales really took off, Macs averaged 27 percent in unit-sales growth every year. During the five-year period from 2009 through 2013, the average yearly unit-sales growth was 10 percent. Analysts are still debating whether mobile devices are outright replacing the computer or whether they've just slowed down the PC-replacement cycle. In either case, people are buying fewer Macs than they once did.
But Macs are still doing better than the PC market generally. There are three reasons for that continued relative success.
First, Apple's own retail stores gave the company more direct communication with Mac buyers and let the customers get hands-on time with the company's products. "Direct retail is one of the big success factors for Apple," says Mikako Kitagawa, principal research analyst for market research firm Gartner.
Second, the switch to Intel processors in 2006 gave the Mac's performance a leg up. "There was no comparison between PowerPC and Intel at the time," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "[Intel] was more powerful, it was more power efficient, and it also scaled from the low end with notebooks to the high end with workstations and the pro market."
Third, demand for notebooks began to regularly exceed sales of desktop machines. In 2004, laptop and desktop Mac sales were roughly equal. Starting in 2006, however, laptops began to outstrip desktops to the point that, in 2013, they outsold them by three to one.
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