Apple's Mac growth in the enterprise against Windows isn't sustainable

By Preston Gralla

News that sales of Macs in enterprises skyrocketed 66% last quarter has many of the Apple faithful projecting even bigger inroads into corporate America and beyond. But that's unlikely to happen. For all its recent growth spurt, the Mac will likely remain an afterthought in most corporations.

Needham & Co. analyst, Charlie Wolf says that the 66 percent jump in Apple sales in the last quarter was well over overall enterprise growth of only 4.5 percent. As my Computerworld blogging compatriot Jonny Evans points out, increases were across the board to all size companies: 94.7 percent growth in "very large businesses," 75.5 percent in "large businesses," 58.1 percent in "medium businesses," and 90.4 percent in "small businesses."

Evans also notes that Wolf said that the Apple sales are a result of the "halo effect" of iPads, iPhones, and iPods:

"Notwithstanding its premium prices compared with Windows PCs, the Mac should continue to grow faster than the PC market, propelled by the halo effects now emanating from the iPod, iPhone and iPad along with the international rollout of Apple Stores."

All that sounds like the Apple juggernaut is unstoppable. But even with a whopping 66 percent growth last quarter, Macs still only account for a measly 3 percent of total sales to businesses. Three percent does not a juggernaut make. It's practically a rounding error.

It's easy to post eye-popping percent gains when you start with very low sales figures, which the Mac has. But as your sales grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to post large percentage gains.

In addition, the Mac has been here before. Back in 1997, the Mac posted 3% of sales to businesses. Looked at that way, in the last 14 years, its sales to corporations have been stagnant.

In addition, the halo effect will go only so far. There are several factors weighing against big Mac growth in enterprises. One is the growth of cloud computing. In a cloud-based world, your hardware platform loses importance, because apps are run from the cloud. Why pay a Mac tax for a higher-priced computer in a cloud-based future, when a less expensive piece of equipment will do the same job?

In addition, inexpensive Chrome netbooks and laptops will make it difficult for the Mac to sustain its growth, because they'll be a solid choice for companies who want an alternative to Windows.

Finally, expect Android tablets and iPads to become increasingly important for corporations. Why spend several thousands dollars for a Mac when you can get similar work done with a $500 tablet? So the success of the iPad may well cut into the demand for Macs, not fuel it.

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