Perspective and Context in Personal Computing

The Mac grew at the extremely low rate of 1.8% over last year’s second quarter. Although it grew faster than the Windows PC market, the gap has narrowed quite a bit. The following graph shows the growth of the two members of the computing Ancien Régime.

We have to wait a few more quarters before we can decide whether the Mac will enter a new phase of diminished expectations. Although it’s not immune from the impact of the iPad, the effect can take a long time to be evident and in either case, growth can come from conversion of Windows users which vastly outnumber loyal Mac users who might upgrade.

If we see the computing market as the superset of keyboard+mouse input and touch-based input then new computing consumption becomes easier to spot:

Seen this way, rather than there being a crisis in personal computing, we have a renaissance. And as in the actual Renaissance, it’s a volatile and unsettling period.

Nowhere more so than in the changing of bases of power. Consider the following data:

A change in perspective leads one to conclude that Apple is the new leader in selling personal computers. Maybe this charting is putting too fine a point on it, but the data is beginning to make evident that which has been perceived subjectively by only a few.

  • If we’re including touch based input, why not include iPhone et al?

    • It is still difficult now to have pads data included in market surveys, the post-pc disruption is coming for producer and for analyst but with different learning times.
      Time to include smartphones will come, but first analysts have to digest that time to include pad has come.
      In the mean time producers are all converging to a unique operating system for all size of portable devices, with microsoft also with the idea of an unique o.s. for portable and desktop computers.

      • Sacto_Joe

        I don’t agree. I’ve always maintained that the iPhone is a pocket computer. Perhaps that’s because my first computer ran exactly two programs, MacWrite and MacPaint. Compared to that 1984 Macintosh, even the first iPhone is a huge advance in computing.

        If you own a smartphone or an iPod Touch, you own a computer, and you are part of the Mobile Computer Renaissance.

      • Yep I agree too, more so with an iPad, but for what I know Canalys is the only to include tablets in pc data reports. You have to leave the analyst the time to understand the new world created by apple disruption, once they do, first they will include only the ipad and last they will have to include smartphones, that are, as you said, powerful portable and personal computers.

      • Sacto_Joe

        Not to be mean, but I really don’t give two figs about what other analysts think. Horace has hit on the concept of a mobile computing renaissence. I’m convinced that it starts earlier and is much bigger than he’s showing in this article.

      • The point is that data are starting to show what’s happening right now making it evident to the vast majority because analyst are starting to include iPad in the pc data. That’s not a doubt on what’s happening, only a doubt on what analyst make their client perceive. With the inclusion of smartphones in pc market the data will be accurate, for now they aren’t.

    • I prefer to categorize by a common set of jobs to be done. Although there are many overlaps and the iPhone will get better with time, the context of use is different. I think the iPhone does not yet stretch far enough to compete for the same jobs to be done as a tablet and traditional PC do.

      • Sacto_Joe

        As I said in a post below, I see breakthroughs like Siri as changing all that. Another capacity that may be fast approaching integration is projection technology. Yet a third is some kind of heads up display on eyeglasses. Couple that with virtual reality, and it really isn’t much of a stretch to see a pocket computer replacing even the largest desktop computer in the not too distant future.

        The point I’m making is that the major breakthrough that formed the basis of the Mobile Computer Renaissence was the touch interface, which works on a smaller tablet nearly as well as on a larger tablet, and that Siri has succeeded in bringing those two form factors even closer together. Personally, I think you’re missing a bet not lumping them together.

      • Whether Siri is a breakthrough is a matter of opinion. I don’t use it much but from what I’ve read regarding its usefulness, let’s just say for many people it’s not really useful, not because they don’t need it but mostly because it hasn’t been that reliable a service.

        Hopefully that will change come iOS6 but we’ll have to see.

      • Jerome

        About Siri’s usefulness: “Set timer” oder “Set alarm” has turned from a chore (hunt for app, fiddle, set time etc) to a simple spoken command. I use the timer very often and appreciate the convenience that Siri brings.

        I think there are many minijobs like that to be done.

      • Sharon_Sharalike

        Yes, timers and alarms are so easy that I use them much more often than I ever have before. For me, if Siri did only that and dictation I’d still be happy, but it’s obvious it is becoming much more.

      • KirkBurgess

        IOS 6 will improve Siri, but Siris true coming out party won’t happen until I’m sitting infront of a spreadsheet on my Mac or iOS device and say “please turn column B into a pie chart, graph a line chart for row 3, and tell me the average of all the entries in table 2.”

        Integration into apps is key.

      • You are assuming that this is a usage model that makes sense.
        It is substantially slower to say some things than to simply point at them. Likewise it is not at all clear that dictating, say, mathematics ala TeX, or source code, is especially sensible. Doing that, even to HUMANS (ie with understanding far beyond what we’re going to get from a computer for the foreseeable future) is problematic.

        One of the hallmarks of any change is a wave of basically silly pronouncements that the new thing will sweep all before it.
        [cf Microsoft and the UI formerly known as Metro.]
        There will be fools who insist on doing everything the new way only — but normal human beings, after some experimentation, will utilize the full range of useful tools. People did not stop cooking in ovens when microwaves came along. They did not stop calling on the phone once SMS was available. Rather we all have a feeling for when of these alternatives makes sense.

      • Jonshf

        Perhaps a weighted calculation would work better. An iPad might be 75% pc and a good smartphone might be 25%. Kind of arbitrary but almost anything is better than assessing things as either 100% or 0% pc.
        Web usage statistics is another approach.

      • Sacto_Joe

        I just had a “vision”: A user takes a pocket computer out, puts it on a table in front of him, and puts on a pair of virtual reality glasses. He uses voice commands and Kinnect-type gestures (picked up by the pocket computer) to manipulate objects seemingly suspended in 3d space in front of him, including virtual touch interfaces and a virtual keyboard. Goodbye, PC!

  • ‘The’ Mac suffers from a lack of innovation. The model lines have not changed in years, specs have been improving at a glacial pace.
    Especially the stagnation of the MacPro line is worrying — a lot of high end users are becoming fed up, waiting for new models.
    I can understand why Apple is concentrating on its iPhone and iPad business, but they should at least acknowledge their historical base of clients by providing professional creatives with the tools they need.

    • Sacto_Joe

      I’m convinced that Apple is working in that direction. I believe we need to be patient. Also, the MacBook line is certainly not suffering “from a lack of innovation”.

      • Their innovation is rapid in only limited areas. Yes the Retina Macbook is an outstanding product, but I need to upgrade my old iMac and am waiting on new models that I hoped would come out this summer. They didn’t. I think a lot of people are stuck in this position. Apple has expanded it’s head count rapidly, but there are still bottlenecks in it’s product development process that are hurting it, and this has been apparent for a while. It looks like it’s finally affecting their sales in a noticeable fashion.

      • Jan6

        Only because you expected an iMac update this summer, that didn’t came, the iMac suffers a lack of innovation? A little self-centered that is.

      • You’re ASSUMING that new iMacs (and new minis) are not shipping because of lack of headcount.
        This may be so, but you should open yourself to the idea that there are other alternatives driving Apple’s choices.

        A simple example of this would be that Apple is waiting for 802.11ac chips, which it wants to install in desktop macs first, before laptops, so that even while the chips use too much power for laptops, there’s scope to learn from them AND to build up an 802.11ac base station infrastructure.

        A more dramatic example of this would be that Apple has a new form factor or construction method in mind for iMacs — which are still heavy devices and fairly thick — and which is still being worked on. To take just one simple example — what if you included a small amount of laptop battery in an iMac, so that if it does lose power it can save its state fairly cleanly rather than just losing everything? With the new protocols in Lion for saving state, we have most of what’s necessary to make this work — but it’s obviously more than just swapping an Ivy Bridge for a Sandy Bridge CPU.

      • Jonshf

        Really good points. Innovation is not at a standstill, just a calm before the storm.
        Personally I think they’re investing heavily in making their whole product line “retina” based. That will take a lot of effort but it will set them apart from others as the whole resolution issue disappears (zooming to any resolution will not appear blurry).

      • If this was an isolated case you might be right, but the delay between updates for all of Apple’s non-mobile computers have lengthened drastically over the last few update cycles. Check out the update histories for the Mac Mini, iMac and particularly the Mac pro on

    • vincent_rice

      This is simply untrue. The Mac is as advanced as it possibly can be in what is now a mature market. The MacBook Retina is in advance of anything out there and the iMac and MacPro will be in the same position when released. The time between releases simply reflects the slowing in development of the sector as a whole. The latest innovation of the Mac is the iPad – again, it’s beyond anything else out there.

    • Prove this assertion that there is “stagnation of the MacPro line is worrying — a lot of high end users are becoming fed up, waiting for new models”.

      Give REALISTIC examples of what Apple should be doing. Bear in mind that (a) Intel hasn’t released Ivy Bridge Xeons. Can’t blame Apple for that. That flows through to lack of system-wide USB3.(b) These are machines with slots. Users are quite capable of adding a wide array of functionality that they require (eg USB3) unlike on other Macs.
      What I see when I look at Mac Pro is the same sort of whining that I see from Android people complaining that “Apple only releases one phone a year” — a mindless demand for change, with no real thought put into changes that make sense, given the market and the constraints. Or an insistence that Apple manufacture a machine perfect for one person’s needs, with no willingness to accept that Apple probably has a better idea of how much demand there is for different feature collections than said individual does.

  • r.d

    “Why the Renaissance was a violent era”

    So Europe went from control by Clergy to Merchants.
    From Christian Text to Secular Latin and Greek scientific knowledge saved by Arabs.
    From Trade with the Muslims to Bypassing them.
    From Conquest of Holy lands to conquest of Americas.
    TO World domination and subsequent eras were even more violent for the rest of the world, prior crusades weren’t a picnic either.

    • Sacto_Joe

      I think the allusion to violent change in Horace’s statement is obvious enough. Indeed, you’ve proven his point admirably!

  • Walt French

    I’ve never been fond of Categorization exercises; too often they’re debates about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: sterile debates with no impact on any measurable outcome.

    But I think this post gets us closer to considering: when a consumer has a job to be done, what device(s) will he think about using?

    If I want to get in a round of Words with Friends, the phone is great, almost as good as the iPad. If I want to tweet on a subject, I can put up with the iPhone’s less accessible editing for 140 characters. But writing a comment this long is awful on an iPhone due to the combo of Disqus, the slower CPU and the more limited UI. That means I have to have an urgent need before I’d use the phone

    It seems that most people’s jobs-to-be-done allow for a substantial overlap between the iPad and the desktop/laptop, while iPhone jobs have a much more modest overlap to the iPad.

    The latest round of iOS web-browsing statistics supports the notion that iPads may be used at least as intensively for browsing as desktops, while much more numerous phones are way behind. Since browsing and similarly I/O dependent activities are a big part of many people’s jobs to do, that’d argue for a heavy overlap between the iPad and the PC, quite a bit more than between a smartphone and an iPad, and very much more than between a phone and a PC. (Hope you can draw the Venn diagram in your mind.)

    • Sacto_Joe

      I’m typing this on my iPhone partly to make a point: It is somewhat slower than the iPad, but not much slower – for me. The key phrase there is “for me”. I don’t use my thumbs to type with on my iPhone; I use my index fingers. In part, that’s because I have large hands. But in part that’s because I orient the phone differently. As a result, I get more facility out of my phone than others.

      But even that is going away. My wife no longer types into her iPhone at all. She dictates. And that’s really the point: Computers are evolving, and simultaneously they are opening up possibilities for many who never had those opportunities before.

      So this is one of those rare occasions, Walt, when I am forced to disagree with you.

      • Walt French

        OK, it works for you & your wife.

        I’m not trying to diss the iPad or iPhone. My wife prefers her iPad over her desktop, for anything that it’s remotely capable of handling. My work is much more intense — I’m prototyping some intense math code using Mathematica & Excel; would HATE to try it on a lightweight machine.

        Good point that the jobs change with the economics. It would’ve been crazy to think you’d use a pocket computer for typical social applications if it cost a couple of thousand plus $1 per kilobyte. And Moore’s Law seems to be helping boost the low-level devices up, as per standard disruption theory. I guess I need to keep my eyes more open about how quickly things are moving.

      • Onafunjourney

        I use my iPhone a lot like you both you and your wife. It’s usually a back up, but I was in Pages and Numbers half the day at Disneyland. I go for long walks and bring iPhone vs iPad, because I can wear it on my hip and dictate many pages worth of information into Notes and pages while walking or hiking.

    • Jim Zellmer

      I often use TextExpander on iPhone to write and sometimes dictate, particularly more than a few sentences. The more focused process helps me review my text and then use it where and as necessary.

    • I agree very much with this point — people will use the tool that makes the most sense. Right now I see something of a macho attitude where (some) people feel they need to make some sort of point about using an iPad to construct a spreadsheet or something, but I expect that to pass in a few years.

      A more persistent issue, I think, is the white goods issue.
      For a long time people have talked about what happens when computers become “good enough” for most people; and we really have hit that point. The most recent round of devices with USB3 and Thunderbolt killed the last nagging and constants sources of slowdown. We now have truly magnificent screens, IO we don’t have to wait for, CPUs that are almost instantaneous, enough RAM that we don’t have to swap, etc etc. We even have this in light laptops with long battery lives.

      The point of all this is that there is now very little reason to upgrade a computer until it dies. And with the end of the hard drive, there is very little in a computer that is likely to die (it seems like the cooling fan is the last commonly problematic part). This switches the market from one where we were all upgrading every two years to one where we will replace perhaps every ten years. It’s hardly surprising that growth has halted.

      So what’s a company to do? The developing world is not that great a possibility. They’re able to cobble together adequate computing power from the castoffs of the developed world, so Apple (and even HP, Lenovo, etc) have little hope there. (And this is not just imaginary — I have a friend whose business consists of rounding up cast off PCs in Thailand, cleaning them up, and shipping them to Vietnam — beautiful and moving in a way that everyone gets a chance at cheap computing.)
      Instead the business does become white goods — the best you can do is hope that your next sale comes at the expense of his next sale.

      It’s also a singularly problematic time trying to extrapolate forward. On the one hand we have MS’ Great Leap Forward, and who knows how that will turn out; on the other hand it is quite possible that phones and tablets have recapitulated the business history of PCs in six years or so, that the iPhone LTE and iPad new are again close enough to good enough that we’ll soon switch to a white goods market here. (There do remain obvious improvements that can be made with both; and there is a large pool of unserved customers; but both of those may be history as soon as four years from now.) We have one more boost in store with Smart Watches, and then again with Project Glass headsets.
      Point of all this is: when all your devices are good enough, even your phone and your smart watch, it becomes the ecological system that matters, not the devices. Apple clearly has a great story here, better than the competition. Which suggests that (once Win8 settles out) a slow growth in their market share at the expense of Windows, but nothing spectacular — just a persistent accumulation of purchasers whose Windows PCs die buying a Mac replacement to work better with the rest of their Apple eco-system.
      While this story does position Apple as way ahead of everyone else, it also suggests that skepticism about Apple’s ability to keep massively growing its profits, beyond a few years in the future, is warranted. Being in a stable business is fine — GE isn’t hurting — but it’s going to hurt like hell if you bought Apple on an expectation of 50% annual growth forever.

  • Roger Hoover

    I’d love to know the average sales prices of PC+tablet for Apple and the other top producers. Are any ASP figures available?

    • dgrayson98

      Yes. In Q2 Mac ASP $1227, iPad $538, and notebook PCs (ex-Apple) $513.

  • bbcbbm

    I would suggest Mac will show its growth rate of 15-20% per year again in the next few quarters and years ! June quarter showed no growth because people were waiting for the refresh. Look at this year’s college freshman class in the US and ROW. Mac is gaining on Windows very quickly. No need to over analyze this to death. Mac will eat into Windows for years to come. Macbook Air is a great product. So is the Mac Mini !

    • Canucker

      That’s what I did (wait) and no regrets. Just bought a retina display MacBook Pro and it’s the best upgrade yet. The impact of the display resolution is difficult to convey. I avoid Microsoft Office applications because they are not retinized. The difference in visual usability is so vivid. If Apple follows up with aggressive introductions of the retina display on 11″ and 13″ models, they’ll see both upgrades and new sales. Windows 8 also supports hiDPi displays but the incremental cost of a HiRes display added to a mainstream Windows laptop will cause more sticker shock (in the same manner that ultrabooks have failed to take off at $1000).

    • Sharon_Sharalike

      My iMac is on its last legs and is begging to be put out to pasture, but I feel compelled to wait for an iMac refresh. So as soon as that happens my wallet (or Passbook!) will fly open.

      • Scott Sterling

        same here. Home and office need three iMacs. But my old ones are over five years old and still run great. If they were Windows computers the OS would have needed a reinstall at least twice to keep running decently. Thats a testament to Apple’s OS in specific and the Mac in general.

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  • GaneshNayak

    I kind of agree on clubbing tablets with PC…

    Interestingly, one more change of power may be in order… Asus… whichcan suddenly rise to the top by year end, if only it can make and distribute enough of Nexus 7 🙂

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  • Aren’t the comparisons done with Macs vs. overall PC-market, with Macs outgrowing slightly faster. But the problem is that Macs are a subset of the PC-market, so when sales of Macs go up, it boosts the overall sales of PCs as well, th us masking the steepness of the decline in PC-sales.

    So is this comparison made explicitly against Windows-PCs (which does not include Macs) or against PCs in general (which includes Macs)? It seems to me that the source of the PC numbers is the report by Gartner:

    “Worldwide sales of personal computers fell 0.1 percent in the second quarter of the year”. But it should be noted that that -0.1% includes the Mac. If you remove Macs from the equation, the drop would be bigger.

    • My measure of PCs exclude Macs

      • I should add that the Windows PC market declined by 0.2% by this measure. Gartner suggests -0.1%.

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  • Watcher

    What happened to Asus and Toshiba in Q1 2011?

    • The data was not available for those quarters so they were part of Other.

  • The Apple renaissance of the last few years is truly a fantastic and inspiring story of corporate America. As we go forward, with much stronger competitors than just 2 years ago like Google with Android, Samsung with the Galaxy phone and don’t count out Microsoft Windows 8, can the Apple business model still command a premium for its product? I have no doubt that the diehard Apple users would say yes. To those, I would like to remind them that when HP dropped the price of their Touchpad to 199$ for the entry level model and 250$ for the bigger memory model, they actually outsold the iPad. It took HP a few days to clear out ALL of HP’s inventory. Yes, it was a bargain, yes, at that price who would say “no”! I would like to submit that the Apple model is very susceptible to price to a class of users who would like to own and Apple but that a competitively priced comparable product, they would choose the perceived better deal; and I think that there is more bargain hunters out there than apple diehard.

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  • Scott Sterling

    Horace, do you have a Revenue chart that is based on the Personal Computer Shipments chart above? And an average ASP chart?

    • Sorry, I don’t track the PC market with that much resolution.

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  • JohnH

    Where is the rest of the story? What kind of crap journalism is this?

    • What makes you think there is more to this story and what do you expect it to be? As an aside, I am not a journalist and this is not journalism.