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Mac sales jump 19% when compared to terrible Q4 2012

Apple squeaked out a 1% gain for all 2013 as the PC business plunged 10%

January 28, 2014 10:31 AM ET

Computerworld - Mac sales jumped 19% in the fourth quarter of 2013 over the year before, the first uptick in more than a year, Apple said Monday.

For the quarter ending Dec. 31, Apple sold 4.8 million Macs compared to about 4.1 million during the same period of 2012.

"We were ... very pleased to have generated such strong results for our Mac products, particularly given IDC's most recently published estimate of a 6% year-over-year contraction in worldwide personal computer sales," said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, during the company's earnings call with Wall Street.

While the number was impressive for Apple -- it was the Mac's fourth-best quarter ever and the first to show growth since the third quarter of 2012 -- what Oppenheimer failed to mention was that the 19% increase was largely artificial.

Global Mac sales in 2013
Apple sold 4.8 million Macs worldwide in the December 2013 quarter, the second straight month of increasing sales after nearly a year of slumping sales. (Data: Apple.)

The quarter to which Oppenheimer compared Mac sales -- the fourth of 2012 -- had been weak because Apple botched the introduction and rollout of that year's refreshed iMacs, which were announced in October but weren't ready to ship for weeks. Apple later quantified the loss in iMac sales in the fourth quarter of 2012 at around 700,000 systems, meaning that if it had been able to sell that number then, the fourth quarter of 2013 would have been flat, not up 19%.

Even so, Apple trumpeted sales, particularly of the iMac and MacBook Air, and Oppenheimer touted the fact that the Mac had gained global market share in 30 of the last 31 quarters.

While Mac sales increased last quarter, the overall PC industry continued to shrink. IDC estimated the worldwide contraction at 6% while rival research firm Gartner pegged it down 7%. But Apple remained off both companies' top-five lists, with the 4.8 million Macs about 600,000 shy of fifth-place Asus by Gartner's count and equal to a third of leader Lenovo's total for the quarter.

If Gartner's global shipment estimate was accurate, Macs accounted for about 6% of the world's total.

Some believe Apple has an opportunity to grow that share, a feat the company pulled off during 2013, when Mac sales were up 1% year-over-year even as overall PC shipments fell 10%.

"This was a good quarter for the Mac compared to PCs, especially from the notebook standpoint," said Ben Bajarin in an interview after Apple's earnings call. "The Mac was a bright spot, and it can benefit from the contraction."

Bajarin's theory is that as consumers purchase fewer personal computers and wait longer before buying replacement systems, they will begin to view the household's sole computer as an investment. The Mac will be more attractive than cheaper Windows PCs because of Apple's new practice of giving away OS upgrades and its iWork productivity suite and will be valued for its top-of-the-line construction, Bajarin has argued.

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