Apple's new Macs: make or break for PC sales

There's a lot riding on the success of Apple's latest Macs -- they're the company's best hope to regain momentum in the PC market, even as that sector continues its decline.


Win or lose for Mac

PC vendors are experiencing PC sales decline. Recent European data from Gartner claims sales are so weak that Apple is now among the top five European PC manufacturers.

Not so long ago Apple was ignored as a PC platform because it held just 2-3 percent of the market. The popularity of the iPod and iPhone blew Mac sales out of the niche, today, while iPad sales cannibalize the PC market, the company must hope its new Macs will bring fresh momentum.

Apple has its work cut out according to Gartner, which reveals Apple's European sales declined 3.1 percent in the last year (Q3 2012 - Q32103).

This isn't a huge surprise: Apple only recently upgraded its Mac range so it's inevitable many people delayed new product purchases pending the upgrade. It remains open to question if the company's new machines will help the company once again shrug off the general PC industry malaise.

"PC shipments in Western Europe totalled 11.9 million units in the third quarter of 2013, a decline of 12.8 percent from the same period in 2012, according to calculations by Gartner. Back in the third quarter of 2009, PC shipments stood at 16.7 million units."

You could argue that this doesn't matter: iPad is seizing the lead in the post-PC transition across personal and professional markets. Any cannibalization of Mac sales that is taking place is a small price to pay for Apple's post-PC leadership position.

You could argue this, but the future of post-PC isn't a world in which people don't have any PCs at all, but one in which most homes and offices will keep one or two computers for tasks mobile devices aren't yet capable of handling.

Inevitably, the new Macs represent an attempt to make sure the next PC most iPad and iPhone owners invest in is a Mac.

The continued attempt to unify the user experience of both iOS and OS X is critical to this. Hundreds of millions of iPhone users -- already happy with their experience on that platform -- must be more likely than ever before to go Mac.

The move to offer OS and key applications for free with every Mac should enhance this. You don't -- and won't -- get free OS upgrades with Windows -- Microsoft depends on OS licensing income. This gives Apple a strong argument with which to convert iPhone and iPad-using PC users to Macs.

Apple's PC competitors: HP, Lenovo, Acer and Dell don't offer anything to match the iPad, and while the tablet market is competitive, market leaders are primarily non-PC manufacturers, such as Amazon. Microsoft's Surface and Windows 8.1 have failed to kindle the market.

This leaves Apple in a great position to occupy more space in the PC market. It's whole widget strategy means it is unique in offering Macs, iPhones and iPads that work together to deliver an increasingly unified platform as it inevitably climbs into the top three bracket.

It all depends on the new Macs. If they ignite Apple's PC sales, then the company has a chance to become a leading PC brand in all markets; if they fail, then it seems inevitable the platform will eventually be left behind.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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