Mac Musings

Record Mac Sales Culminate Five Years of Growth

Daniel Knight - 2010.01.26 -

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Apple did it again, announcing record sales and profits for the holiday quarter, and Apple is on track to become a $50 billion company in 2010.

As others have already noted, the largest portion of Apple's hardware income comes from Macintosh computer sales, not iPods or iPhones.* It's interesting to look at how Macintosh sales have grown over the past dozen years.

In 1998, Apple sold less than 1 million units per quarter including the then-new iMac, which was the most popular computer model for several months. Apple broke the million unit per quarter mark in 1999, then fell well below that mark by the end of 2000.

For the next four years, Mac sales were pretty consistent and unexciting. It wasn't until Holiday Quarter 2004 that Apple again achieved Mac unit sales above the 1 million unit mark - and year-over-year unit sales have been improving ever since, with one exception (Q1/09).

Our graph of quarterly Mac unit sales (below) uses four different shades of red. The lightest shade is for the March quarter, the slightly darker one for the June quarter, the reddest one for the September quarter, and the darkest one for the December quarter. This should make it easier to visualize year-over-year sales growth.

Mac unit sales by quarter from mid 1998 through 2009.

Mac unit sales at the end of 2009 were roughly five times what they were at the end of 2000, and the Mac market seems to just keep growing.

Interesting tidbit: Apple has sold approximately 35 million Intel-based Macs since moving away from the PowerPC architecture in 2006.

What About Desktops?

In light of the predictions that desktop computers are on their last legs, it is interesting to compare unit sales for desktop vs. notebooks. Although Mac notebooks first outsold desktops in 2006 and continue to grow at an impressive rate, desktop sales have also been on the increase.

Apple notebook unit sales overtook desktop sales in fiscal 2006.

Where Apple sold only a little over a half-million desktop Macs in fiscal Q3 of 2006, sales were nearly twice that in fiscal Q1 of 2008, and in the latest quarter, they were nearly 25% higher than any previous quarter. No, desktop sales aren't growing as steeply as notebook sales (although the new iMac and Mac mini models released in late 2009 certainly spiked sales), but the desktop category is still alive and well.

Over a period of five years, Apple has tripled Mac unit sales by offering better value and moving to a platform that makes it relatively easy for Windows users to continue using their legacy software while transitioning to the OS X platform. We can only see that growth continuing in coming years.

Apple is on the brink of surpassing Microsoft in revenues, something few anticipated when Apple seemed on the brink of collapse in 1997. Very impressive for a company with less than 10% of the user base vs. over 90% for Microsoft.

* I've received an email disputing this, claiming that the iPhone generates more income for Apple under the new accounting rules.

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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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