Doomed Apple is world's Number One PC maker, with a Snow Leopard problem

Poor, beleaguered Apple [AAPL] -- nothing's going right: on the one hand it must try to make its business out of a minority (20 percent) share of the PC industry; on the other, Macs manufactured six or more years ago are still in active use. Life really does suck, sometimes…

Apple is world's No 1 PC maker

[ABOVE: Apple is world's biggest PC maker -- and there's life in its veteran Snow Leopard cubs, yet. Image c/o Tambako the Jaguar]

Fun with fanbois

These two data points aren't summoned from the top of my head in order to upset all those Apple fanbois who seem content to use their beautifully designed devices with their substantial second hand market values. These two slices of information come from:

  1. An analyst firm, and…
  2. Another analyst firm (via Computerworld).

Let's take a look at the first slice of bad news that's got Apple executives reeling round the boardroom as their Oompa-Loompah's (song below) put the finishing touches to the annual iteration of the world's easiest-to-use, most secure, some say most advanced operating system: Apple's 20 percent market share (comprising Macs and iPads).

You could see it as a good thing.

Not so many years ago, Apple took just 3-4 percent of the PC market, and you might imagine increasing its business around six-fold could be seen as something positive.

You're welcome to your illusion.

[ABOVE: I promised you some Oompah-Loompah's...here they are.]

Microsoft's closed ecosystem

Microsoft has the lion's share (83.84 percent, says StatCounter) of the PC market, which is why despite dismal Windows 8 sales company CEO, Steve Ballmer, is still laughing :

  • Even though the majority of these machines are still running a four-year old OS called, "Windows 7".
  • And also despite the market failure (thus far) of that company's attempts to seize ground in the tablet and smartphone industries.

Ballmer knows that just so long as Microsoft makes something for Windows machines, it will have something like a business -- that's the advantage of its somewhat controlled, Windows-only ecosystem.

Not so Apple. Apple has to deliver innovation each year to keep its market zesty. How company executives there must be wishing they had a commodity device to boost business (other than the declining but huge iPod market, of course). These days, it's all about the iPad. So how well's that product doing?

Very well, it seems, according to the Kool Aid-sipping analysts at Canalys, who tell us: "One in six PCs shipped in Q4 2012 was an iPad." Their latest PC market figures are festooned with grim reading for any remaining Apple execs who might not yet understand that the iPad replaces PCs in nearly all normal usage scenarios.

screen_shot_2013-02-07_at_10.32.25.png

Hitting the roof

"Worldwide PC shipments increased 12 percent year-on-year in Q4 2012 to reach 134 million units, with pads accounting for over a third. Apple continued to lead the PC market, shipping 27.0 million units and taking its share over 20 per cent for the first time," Canalys said.

That's right: include iPads in the brief and Apple is the world's leading PC manufacturer. That's got to be tough to hear in Cupertino's boardrooms, given that once you reach the top, the only way is down -- surely the company can't go much higher than top of the PC industry tree?

Signs of the firm's imminent downturn were evident in the Canalys report, which tells us Apple's 'pad' marketshare fell to under 50 percent, noting that the company (currently still working hard to ditch untrustworthy manufacturing partners from its supply chain) suffered a little in Q4 2012 from "supply issues". That's yet another nightmare for Apple's leadership: They just can't make their products fast enough (yet).

It could be worse, of course: Amazon's insistence on making business by undercutting Apple's tablets on price means it is devouring all the sales at the low end of that market -- even more pressure for all those established PC industry names who occasionally try and fail to penetrate Apple's 'Pad in its sweet price spot.

Apple's leadership must be asking themselves what they have to do to maintain their position as the world's leading PC maker, given they aren't prepared to compete on "cheap". How do they continue to convince those customers who have the coin to invest in Apple kit in preference to all those cheap tablets and low-end, short life cycle PCs?

Perhaps the next OS will help?

Snow Leopard bolstered its reputation as the Windows XP of the Mac with the fourth straight month of out-dueling OS X Lion. (Data: Net Applications.)

[ABOVE: Snow Leopard still gets used. (Data: Net Applications via Computerworld.)

Snow Leopard still in wild

Speaking of short life cycles, spare a thought for Apple's OS X teams and their daily torment as they seek to erase that previous OS known as Snow Leopard.

Just like Windows 7, Snow Leopard is four years old -- it was introduced in June 2009, shortly before Windows 7. The release was the last version of OS X to support PowerPC Macs -- and therein lies yet another problem for the fading tech star: those old Macs are still in use. (You can see how popular older Macs are just by checking the price of Snow Leopard and Leopard online.

That's right: those Macs, the last of which was manufactured in August 2006, are still on active service. You can tell they are still active because Mac users still use these machines to browse the Web, according to Net Applications. The Web analytics vendor believes Snow Leopard still accounts for 28.2 percent of Mac-based browsing sessions.

The message here must be that if you buy a Mac, you're buying a machine that, if treated right, you'll still be using in half a decade's time.

This must be a huge problem for Apple's executive team: how do they encourage users to upgrade their kit more often without sacrificing their reputation for delivering high quality machines?

Give me shelter

The two most recent OS X iterations (both of which are Intel only) together account for 62.2 percent of Mac-based Web traffic, Net Applications explains.

Apple doesn't offer security patches for the veteran OS or the even more veteran Macs which still run it, but the facts are crystal clear: Snow Leopard users still love their veteran PowerPC Macs, and don't feel sufficiently threatened by the bugbear of potential security risks to stop taking their machines online.

Apple clearly has a quality problem. Macs just work.

This must be a nightmare for Phil Schiller, Jony Ive, Tim Cook and all the other senior Apple executives. What kind of a statement is that for a company that's now the world's leading PC maker?

It must pain them to know the products they sell customers are generally so reliable they may still be used in six or seven year's time -- that's twice the enterprise-accepted PC lifecycle.

Mac users need to shape up, and fast.

Poor Apple. The bad news just keeps on coming. Perhaps it should just give the money back to the shareholders (file under: Sarcasm). Shareholders certainly want some of its cash.

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.

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