Mac Musings

With 10% of the US Notebook Market, Where Will Apple Go Next?

Daniel Knight - 2008.09.19 -

According to DisplaySearch, Apple has moved into the #4 position in the North American notebook market with 10.6% market share - up from 6.6% in the same quarter last year. That's a 60% jump in market share!

A year ago, Dell held the top spot with 21.6% of the North American market; that has increased slightly to 21.9%. HP was a solid second at 21.2% and has grown that a little bit to 21.4%. Acer, which also owns the Gateway, eMachines, and Packard Bell brands, had 18.6% of the market a year ago but has seen that drop significantly to 14.4%.

Toshiba rounds out the Top 5 with 9.0% of the North American notebook market, down from 11.4% a year ago. The remainder of the market (22.4%) is divided among all the other players.

If these trends continue, Acer will continue its decline and Apple its growth, moving Apple to the #3 notebook position within a year - possibly by then end of 2008.

Looking at Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), HP is top dog with 20.5% market share, up from 18.9% in 2007. Acer, which has been #1 at 20.9%, fell to second place with 17.9% market share. Dell is growing its overseas presence, grew its share of the market from 11.1% to 12.5%, and holds the #3 spot.

Next up is Toshiba, one of the oldest players in the notebook market, with 11.7% market share, up from 9.5%, and Asus rounds out the Top 5 at 5.5% market share, down a tiny bit from 5.6% last year.

Apple missed the Top 5 and is grouped with "other", which accounts for 14.0% of the EMEA market.

Other Trends

All of those clamoring for a smaller MacBook should take note of some other statistics provided by DisplaySearch:

Subnotebooks (a.k.a. netbooks or mini-notes) are not included in DisplaySearch's report. DisplaySearch defines notebooks as having 10.4" or larger displays and has a separate report on "the Mini-Note PC market". The total notebook market is roughly 130 million units per year, and they project the 2008 subnotebook market at 13 million units - approximately 9% of the total notebook/subnotebook market.

Based on that market, 13.3" to 16.0" notebooks account for 80.5% of units sold, 17" and larger "desktop replacement" notebooks for 6.8%, 10.4" to 12.1" ultraportables for 3.6%, and subnotebooks (smaller than 10.4%) for 9.0%.

Apple in the Notebook Market

Apple has four notebook models. Among them, only the 17" MacBook Pro doesn't fall in DisplaySearch's 13.3" to 16.0" portable category. Our educated guesstimate (based on hits on computer profiles and price trackers for the past four months) is that the 17" model accounts for about 14% of Apple's notebook sales, the 15" MacBook Pro for 32%, the 13.3" MacBook for an impressive 43%, and the MacBook Air for 11%.

Based on the same data for aluminum PowerBooks, we put the 17" PowerBook at 17%, the 15" at 35%, and the 12" at 48%. The Macintosh 'Book market definitely skews toward the smaller models. Using DisplaySearch's categories, the "ultraportable" 12" PowerBook has an unexpectedly high following.

Of course, Apple being Apple, its sales don't match the rest of the industry. The 17" MacBook Pro is considered very price competitive with big Windows notebooks and may sell at twice the industry average rate, while the 12" PowerBook's popularity was and remains disproportionate to the broader notebook market. (Apple does not break down sales figures by model, so we can only guess how sales are divided between them.) And the MacBook Air, which is an ultraportable despite its 13.3" display, appears to be selling at 2-3 times the rate of ultraportable Windows notebooks.

Our estimates show Apple doing the worst in the midrange, where the 13.3" MacBook does well while the 15.4" MacBook Pro seems overpriced in the face of more cheaply built Windows notebooks. A 50% premium for a 2.1" bigger display, an aluminum enclosure, a FireWire 800 port, and dedicated graphics seems steep. We would love to see Apple make a more accessibly priced 15" model, even if that means making it "plastic" like the 13" consumer MacBook and the vast majority of Windows notebooks.

For those longing for an iTablet or MacTablet, it's getting more encouraging. Although pen computing has been around for over a decade, Tablet PCs account for only a small fraction of the notebook market - in the range of 7% last year - and that appears to be growing. That could make the tablet market as big as the ultraportable market this year. But as long as Axiotron is making the Modbook, we wonder if Apple will see any reason to pursue this market.

Where Next?

Apple is a dominant player in the $1,000+ notebook market and has no notebook presence below that mark. The hottest markets are for midrange notebooks (particularly 15" models) and subnotebooks.

Apple is a leader, not a follower, and because of this it's not only increasing its share of the notebook market but also selling better in some categories than the rest of the industry. The company has made very few missteps over the years (putting DVD-ROM drives in the 1999 and Summer 2000 iMacs when the rest of the industry was going to CD-RW was one of them), although many of us bemoan Apple's absence from certain parts of the market - tablets, small footprint notebooks, and midrange desktops among them.

A Smaller MacBook

I would love to see Apple establish itself in the small footprint category with a notebook Mac that would run OS X very well and overcome the limitations of most subnotebooks. The 12" PowerBooks and iBooks remain popular because of their small footprint, which keeps some from migrating to the 13" MacBook or MacBook Air.

A 1024 x 600 pixel display is common on netbooks, but anyone who has tried to use OS X productively on a 600-pixel-high display, such as the 800 x 600 screen on the clamshell iBooks, knows how frustrating that can be. The typical 13" notebook nowadays has a 1280 x 800 display, but a sub-MacBook with that resolution would compete with the MacBook.

Suggestion: Use an 1152 x 720 pixel display, which has the same 16:10 aspect ratio as most of today's notebooks but provides 20% more vertical space and 35% more pixels than the Eee PC and most of its competitors. This is nearly 94% of the resolution of the original PowerBook G4 (which had an 1152 x 768 display with a 3:2 aspect ratio).

With the same pixels-per-inch count as the high resolution option for the 17" MacBook Pro, that points to a 10.2" display - or 11.7" at the same pixel density as the normal MacBook Pro display. Either way, it could easily put Apple back in the traditional ultralight category (which DisplaySearch defines by screen size, not weight) and provide a nice step up from cheap netbooks with lower pixel density, lower resolution screens.

Based on the proportions of the MacBook, I'd estimate dimensions with a roughly 11" display would be 7.9" by 11.3" and 1.08" thick (same as the MacBook). This would be about the same footprint as the 12" iBook, which should satisfy those who miss the 12" iBooks and PowerBooks and how comfortably they fit on an airline tray. And there should be sufficient room to use the same keyboard as the MacBook.

Being an Apple product, it would have great battery life. The smart move would be to use the same battery as the MacBook, even if that means leaving out the optical drive to leave room for everything else. And stick with a 2.5" SATA hard drive to keep the price down. Maybe build 2 GB of RAM on the motherboard and provide one slot for adding another 2 GB module. And get the price down to maybe $799 - high by netbook and Windows PC standards, but not for an Apple product or the extras it has compared with typical too-small netbooks.

A Handheld MacBook

Take the same computer, clad it in aluminum like the MacBook Pro, and give it a pivoting touchscreen that can be reversed for use as a tablet, be sure it supports use in portrait orientation, and you've got the perfect Mac for someone who would like to work in the field without being tied to the cumbersome notebook configuration we all know and generally love.

Make it rugged, give it a stylus holder, and then build an onscreen keyboard into OS X that works similarly to the one in the iPhone and iPod touch. Then watch the world beat a path to Apple's stores - and a lot of Tablet PC users contemplate going Mac and using the tablet version of Windows with virtualization software.

Wishful Thinking

I'll admit it - this is just wishful thinking. I would love a field computer a lot smaller than the 15" PowerBook and MacBook Pro models that I've worked with. I would love a notebook computer that can function as a tablet, making it easier to work with the computer when you can't sit down.

But I expect something different from Apple, something unique and unprecedented. Just look at what they did with the ultralight MacBook Air - a full 13.3" display in a three pound package. Or the first PowerBook G4, which was the first 1" thin notebook computer. Or the Mac mini, which still stands apart from the other small PCs of the world. Or the original transportable Macintosh, which shipped with a bag so you could transport it from site to site.

And Apple will continue to grow its share of the personal computer market, especially the notebook side of things.

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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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