Long shot? Apple could grow Mac share to 20%

Lower prices, free OS upgrades give Apple opportunity to steal share from Windows as buyers see personal computer as investment, analyst contends

Apple has a shot at growing the Mac's share of all personal computers even as total shipments of desktops and notebooks continue to contract, an analyst argued today.

"The Mac is a growth story," said Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies in an interview. "Mac has outgrown the total PC market in 29 of the last 30 quarters, and I see that continuing."

Yesterday, Apple said it had sold 4.6 million Macs in the quarter that ended Sept. 30, a 7.1% decline from the same period a year ago. According to estimates from researchers IDC and Gartner, global PC shipments fell 7.6% or 8.6%, respectively. The one quarter of the last 30 that Apple didn't beat the industry average was the final in 2012, when Mac sales contracted 22% -- while the PC business declined just 6% -- after Apple uncharacteristically announced new iMacs but then didn't have any to sell for nearly two months.

Even with the decline in sales, Bajarin was bullish on the Mac's chances of making inroads on Windows PCs and growing its share.

"The PC still plays a fundamental role in consumer computing," said Bajarin. "There will be 300 million personal computers sold this year." And as the business contracts -- as consumers buy fewer personal computers and wait longer before buying replacement systems -- the Mac has some important advantages.

He ticked off several, including the tight integration between hardware, software and services that Apple's known for; Mac notebooks' better-than-the-industry-average battery life; and their new, lower prices.

"And they've strengthened their story with the announcement that all future OS upgrades will be free," Bajarin said, referring to last week's declaration that OS X Mavericks can be downloaded and installed free of charge on Macs up to six years old.

Yesterday, Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer, confirmed that all OS X upgrades, not just Mavericks, will be free. "We're also making Mavericks and future OS X upgrades ... free to our Mac customers," Oppenheimer said.

Mac prices have been falling, a signal that Apple sees an opportunity, Bajarin noted. Since the start of 2013, the price of the 13-in. MacBook Pro with a Retina screen, one of Apple's bestselling notebooks, has dropped $400, or 24%. That model now lists at $1,299.

The Mac's ASP, for "average selling price," has slid as well. In the third quarter, the line's ASP was $1,230, the lowest since the second quarter of 2012, before the introduction of the Retina-equipped MacBook Pro.

While that is almost double the current ASP of touch-enabled Windows PCs, Bajarin argued that the total cost of ownership of a Mac may be similar to a Windows PC, what with the free OS upgrades to all and the iWork productivity suite free to new buyers. "I think consumers are savvy to this idea," he said.

And increasingly, those still buying personal computers see them as an investment because they know that they'll keep them longer, and are thus willing to pay more to get more. There the Mac has an advantage, not only because of the free operating system upgrades, but also because of the machines' top-of-the-line construction quality. "Looking at these devices as investments strengthens the case for a Mac," Bajarin said.

Mac average selling price
The Mac ASP, or 'average selling price,' fell to $1,230 in the third quarter, $114 lower than a year ago. (Data: Apple.)
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