Mac sales tank in Q4 from iMac shortages, cannibalization

Sales down 22%, but CEO Tim Cook rejoices in cannibalization

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"We have always said there is some cannibalization there. I am sure there was some cannibalization of Macs there," Cook said of sales going to iPads rather than Macs. He also pointed to the weak demand for PCs in general as a reason for the Mac decline.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agreed on all counts. "The Mac is affected by the same things as [Windows] PCs," Gottheil said. "Everyone is suffering from the personal computer blues."

Some customers, Gottheil said, bought an iPad rather than a Mac to do light-weight work like browsing the Web and email, and so are keeping their current Macs longer than they would have in the absence of other choices.

Gottheil, however, thought that sales would pick up once Apple solves its iMac supply problems, essentially pushing sales that would otherwise have occurred in the fourth quarter of 2012 into 2013. "I don't see these people saying, 'Well, since Apple doesn't have a desktop all-in-one, I'll try Windows,'" Gottheil said.

Cook said that although Apple would "significantly increase the supply" of iMacs during the quarter that ends March 31, he would not guarantee that the company could reach a supply-demand equilibrium in the period.

Because of the decrease in Mac sales year-over-year, along with record sales of the iPhone and iPad, the Mac's contribution to Apple's revenue reached a new record low of 10.1% last quarter. The previous low for the Mac was the first quarter of 2012, when computers accounted for 12.9% of Apple's revenue.

Not surprisingly, Cook tried to make lemonade out of the lemons delivered by the poor Mac sales figures.

"I see cannibalization as a huge opportunity for us," said Cook on Wednesday. "One, our base philosophy is to never fear cannibalization. If we do, somebody else will just cannibalize it, and so we never fear it. We know that iPad will cannibalize some Macs [so] that doesn't worry us."

Cook also called the situation "the mother of all opportunities," referring to the much larger number of Windows PCs sold than Macs, and the idea that if the company's iPads cannibalize personal computers, they're much more likely to eat into Windows PC sales than into the firm's own systems.

"I have said for two or three, actually three years now, I believe, that I believe the tablet market will be larger than the PC market at some point," said Cook. "And I still believe that. And you can see by the growth in tablets and the pressure on PCs that those lines are beginning to converge."

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

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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