Amid blow-out quarter, Apple barely mentions Mac sales

Now, CEO Tim Cook thinks Macs may be cannibalizing iPad sales


Almost unnoticed on Tuesday during Apple's earnings call, the company said it sold 5.5 million Macs, a record for the December quarter.

The Cupertino, Calif., company sold just 1,000 fewer Macs than in the September quarter, when it set an overall record.

The Mac's $6.9 billion in revenue was its most ever, but was boosted by deferrals that landed on the books from the decision in 2013 to take the OS X operating system and iWork suite of applications free. Then, Apple said it would account for the paid-to-no-pay change by doubling the amount of revenue it held back from Mac sales.

But when combined with the blowout quarter for the iPhone and a holiday rebound for the iPad, the $6.9 billion in Mac revenue represented just 9% of Apple's total for the period, an all-time low for the 30-year-old computer line.

Apple credited sales of the iMac with Retina 5K display, Apple's priciest iMac, for the uptick in revenue and a higher average selling price (ASP) than the quarter before.

"Thanks to the popularity of our stunning new iMac with Retina 5K display, Mac ASPs increased by $58 sequentially," said CFO Luca Maestri in a Tuesday conference call with Wall Street. The Mac's ASP climbed to $1,258, a 5% quarter-over-quarter increase, but remained down the same amount from the year before when it was $1,322.

Apple launched the 5K Retina iMac in mid-October, but extremely tight inventories did not relax until December. The all-in-one starts at $2,499.

Apple actually said very little about the Mac in the earnings call, devoting the bulk of its time -- as did the sell-side analysts who asked questions -- to the iPhone, which sold a record 74.6 million units, a number CEO Tim Cook called "staggering" and "hard to comprehend."

However, Maestri did continue the boasting Apple typically indulges in, reminding analysts that the Mac beat the personal computer industry average for the thirty-fourth time out of the last thirty-five quarters.

According to IDC's estimates, global PC shipments were down 2.4% in the December quarter from the year prior; rival Gartner, which tallies differently, said that shipments were up 1% in the fourth quarter of 2014.

But Apple did not meet IDC's expectations; the researcher had figured that Apple sold 5.75 million Macs in the December quarter, a 231,000-machine miss. Apple did come through for IDC in one way, however: Sales for 2014 set a one-year record, at 19.6 million Macs.

In a turn-about, Cook fielded a question about the slumping iPad and in his answer said that the Mac, of all things, might be partly responsible. (The usual take has been that tablet sales cannibalize the computer business, not the other way around.)

"There is probably some level of cannibalization that's going on with the Mac on one side and the iPhone on the other," Cook said of the iPad. "And so you probably have a little bit about that that is shaking out."

Apple posted iPad sales of 21.4 million, nearly double the previous quarter but down 17.7% year-over-year, making the December period the fourth straight quarter of unit declines.

The iPad ASP fell to $419, a 5% yearly decline and a 3% drop sequentially. That was a record low ASP for Apple's tablet.

Cook attributed the iPad's poor performance to some of the same causes analysts have cited. "The [iPad] upgrade cycle is longer," Cook said. "It's longer than an iPhone, probably between an iPhone and a PC. We haven't been in the business long enough to say that with certainty, but that's what we think."

Even so, Cook remained bullish, as was his job, and pointed out the potential payoff from Apple's 2014 deal with IBM, which only began bearing app fruit in December. "I think the partnership with IBM and the work that we have going on in the enterprise is profound," Cook argued. "I think we're really going to change the way people work. Over a long arc of time I'd really believe that iPad is a great space, a great product."

Mac average selling price for Q4 Data: Apple

For the first time in almost a year, the ASP, or average selling price, of the Mac climbed. Apple attributed the increase to sales of the pricey 5K Retina iMac. (Data: Apple.)


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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