Mac sales growth stalls -- here's why Apple doesn't care

Unlike Windows PC makers, Apple doesn't fret over cannibalization of its personal computers

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A major Mac slump, however, did not worry Cook in January. And if his past is any hint, a continuation of that trend won't perturb him much today, either.

"I am sure there was some cannibalization of Macs there," said Cook during the company's last earnings call, referring to iPad sales and their impact on Macs. He then launched into a refrain he'd used before. "[But] I see cannibalization as a huge opportunity for us. On iPad in particular, we have the mother of all opportunities here, because the Windows market is much, much larger than the Mac market is."

Singh agreed. "The iPad's cannibalization of the Mac is fairly natural. Apple executives have been upfront about this, but I don't think it affects them as much as it affects other PC manufacturers."

He had a point.

When iPad and Mac unit sales are combined -- an approach more analysts are seeing as appropriate since tablets are taking over at least some of the chores once relegated to personal computers -- Apple's year-over-year growth remains on the positive side.

Even the fourth quarter of 2012, when Mac sales were down 22%, shows iPad+Mac growth of 31%.

True, the combined unit sales also show a slowing of gains in 2012 from the triple-digit growth of 2010 and early 2011, but the numbers for last year would be envied by any company, ranging from a high of 87% in the first quarter to 18% in the third.

Still, Apple's stock has taken a beating since last September, down 43% from its high of $702, in part because investors see the slowing growth and are nervous.

"Apple's stock price reflects a growing realization that growth in the high-end market for the iPhone and iPad is drying up, compared to the competition," agreed Singh. "But I don't see Mac cannibalization as a prime concern."

Nor can a continued Mac slump drastically affect Apple's balance sheet, for the simple fact that personal computers have become virtually a side business for the company. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Mac sales accounted for just 10% of Apple's revenue, a record low, besting the first quarter of 2012, when computers accounted for 12.9% of Apple's revenue.

"Apple has a much bigger revenue presence in tablets than other PC manufacturers do," said Singh.

Apple will announce its first-quarter revenue and sales numbers today in an earnings call that will start at 2 p.m. PT.

iPad + Mac sales chart
Combine iPad and Mac sales, and the picture for Apple is much brighter, although growth slowed last year from the torrid triple-digit pace of 2010 and early 2011. (Data: Apple.)

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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