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

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In the third quarter, Macs accounted for about 6% of all personal computer shipments if IDC's 81.6 million global estimate was accurate. In some countries, like the U.S., the Mac's share was double that, or 12%.

"If Apple can increase its share to 20%, gaining share at the expense of other PCs, it would mean 15 million [in unit shipments] a quarter," said Bajarin. That would put it at the top of the world's personal computer sellers.

Revenue from a share increase of that magnitude -- over $15 billion a quarter -- would rival that of the iPhone, Apple's biggest money maker.

"The Mac could tell an interesting growth story at a time where the trend of the PC is down," said Bajarin.

Apple sees the opportunity, he said, ticking off the company's shift to lower prices even as component costs climb, as they undoubtedly did for the newest MacBook Pro models, which dropped 9% to 13% in price even as they added the more expensive Intel Core processor known as "Haswell."

"I think they're deeply aware, and they know that there is this opportunity," said Bajarin, who speculated that the long game -- a year, perhaps two -- could play to Apple's advantage.

In addition, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, has recently rejected the idea that Apple is downplaying the Mac, and instead has reaffirmed the company's commitment to personal computers.

"Our competition is different. They're confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make tablets into PCs, and PCs into tablets," Cook said last week before Apple unveiled new iPads and refreshed Mac notebooks. "[But] we have a very clear direction and a very ambitious goal. We still believe deeply in this category [of traditional notebooks] and we're not slowing down on our innovation."

To further its ambitions, Apple may refuse to do what many have predicted: Add a Retina-quality display to its lower-priced MacBook Air ultra-light notebooks. Instead, Bajarin theorized, Apple could keep the Air as a lower-resolution laptop to save costs.

"The question is, do they move the Air to Retina or drop the price of the Air?" Bajarin asked. If the latter, Apple could lower the price of the MacBook Air, especially the bottom-end 11-in. model, which now costs $999, to make it a more affordable entry-level notebook with battery longevity that almost matches a tablet.

"Is there still a market for first-time PC owners?" Bajarin asked, then answered his own question. "Yes. Over time, those with smartphones and tablets might graduate to some kind of personal computer, a more heavy-lifting computing device. That's the bull case for the personal computer."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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