Mac Musings

Apple Wins and Loses

- 2001.03.13 - Tip Jar

Last Friday we posted an article, Survey Says...., that looked at the recent Harris Interactive survey of "more than 6,500 who purchased a home PC in the first three quarters of 2000."

Statistics

We've received a fair bit of feedback, the most interesting claiming the numbers had to be flawed: you can't have 47% of existing Mac owners buying non-Apple computers while 74% of those who bought Macs this time were existing Mac users.

Well, in the world of statistics, you can very well have it both ways, since we're measuring two different things.

The following numbers are educated guesses, ballpark figures based on the information in the Harris survey.

  • 6,500 computer owners were surveyed
  • about 500 who owned Macs before their most recent purchase were surveyed
  • 53% of Mac users stuck with Mac
  • 74% of Mac buyers who already owned a computer were already Mac owners

If 47% of 500 Mac users bought Windows computers, that leaves 265 who bought new Macs.

If those 265 users are 74% of Mac buyers who had already owned a Mac, that brings our sample of new Mac buyers who had previously owned a computer to 358. That includes 93 converts, but also drops our Mac population from 500 users to 358 - we've lost 28.4% of our installed base.

Some more numbers

  • 20% of those surveyed were first-time buyers, about 1,300
  • Mac users were about 7.5% of the sample
  • 18% of first-time buyers chose Macs

That gives us roughly 97 first-time buyers who chose Macintosh. Added them to the 358 noted above, we end up with about 455 Mac users, a reduction of about 9% from the 500 who owned Macs before the latest round of purchases.

Not Abandoning Apple

Of course, just because a Mac user buys a Windows PC doesn't mean he/she has abandoned the Mac. For instance, we have several Macs in the house, but last year we picked up a used Acer laptop.

Why would a Mac user buy a Windows computer? In our case, it was for home schooling - almost all of the home schooling software we've been able to find is Windows only. The curriculum we chose doesn't support the Mac.

Yes, we bought Virtual PC, which runs nicely, but we've got three kids being home schooled; we needed more hardware. So we bought a Wintel laptop.

Others buy Windows computers because they need it for Internet access (some ISPs refuse to support the Mac), Windows-only software (Microsoft Access is a huge factor here), or to log into a remote system (work computer, online banking, etc.) that only supports Windows computers.

Yes, a good number of Mac owners who bought into Windows have defected, but a good number are also using the Windows computer to supplement their Mac, not replace it.

Conclusion

Still, no matter how you slice it - and despite the amazing success of the iMac - the Macintosh has become the Betamax of the computer industry. Beta was better, but as market share declined, the number of brands declined, the number of titles released in Beta declined, the number of rental shops carrying Beta declined, and it even became difficult to buy blank media.

The same thing is happening with the Mac. Market share is down. Apple had to kill cloning to survive, so there's only a single brand. The number of titles released for the Mac pales in comparison to Windows releases. The number of titles stocked in the few stores that carry Mac software is low. It's a tough time for the Macintosh.

That said, Apple can survive and thrive on a 5-10% market share. The Internet makes it easier to find and buy Mac software - and there are plenty of titles available for the Mac. Thanks to mail order, even buyers not served by Apple retailers can order Macs and have them delivered to their door.

But if Apple can't keep growing the market, it will become harder and harder for them to survive. In a world stacked against us, we need to work with Apple in reminding buyers that the Mac is a solid alternative to Windows and a better long-term investment.

If not, the Mac will go the way of the Commodore 64, the Amiga, and Sony's Betamax. Apple may win the user loyalty contest, but it can't afford to lose 47% - or even 10% - of its market.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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