Apple is set to report earnings Tuesday afternoon, amid expectations of a blowout quarter. While much of the focus will be on iPads and iPhones, it’s becoming increasingly interesting to watch the company’s traditional Mac business — specifically Apple’s ability to defy the trends in the broader personal computer market by boosting Mac sales at a healthy clip.

The latest numbers from the IDC research firm show Apple’s Mac shipments rising 14.7 percent in the U.S. in the second quarter, making the company the No. 3 personal computer vendor in the country. Nos. 1 and 2, HP and Dell, saw their U.S. shipments decline by 0.6 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.

It’s important to keep in mind that Apple is growing from a smaller base, compared with the overall Windows PC market, so it’s easier for the company to post larger percentage gains. Worldwide, Apple isn’t large enough to register among the top five PC vendors in the IDC rankings. Still, Apple is now ahead of Toshiba and Acer in the U.S. market.

The numbers show that the secret to Apple’s recent success isn’t just the company’s ability to expand into new areas, it’s also its ability to continue growing its traditional computer business. Macs are still a reliable engine for the company, even as new devices provide the fuel.

U.S. PC market, as tracked by IDC
Source: IDC Quarterly PC Tracker

Microsoft reports earnings Thursday afternoon for its fourth quarter and fiscal year ended June 30. Analysts predict a record year for the Redmond company — almost $70 billion in revenues and a 23 percent increase in annual earnings per share.

The difference is that Microsoft has recently been needing to rely on products other than its Windows business to fuel its growth. Microsoft leans heavily on PC sales to drive Windows sales, because so many copies of the operating system come on new machines. As goes the PC market, so goes Windows. Economic uncertainty and alternative devices — including Apple’s iPad — are cutting into sales of traditional PCs.

In the previous quarter, the company’s Xbox and Office businesses stepped up to make up for slumping sales in the Windows & Windows Live Division, which reflected the decline in worldwide PC shipments at the time. The story is likely to be similar this week, given the relatively modest 2.6 percent growth reported for the worldwide PC market in the latest quarter.

On the positive side, sales of Windows 7 licenses have been outpacing previous versions of the operating system. Microsoft is also in the midst of redefining its Windows business, with a unified interface and a common application ecosystem across a broad range of devices. The critical moment will be the release of Windows 8, expected sometime next year, and the big question is whether the new approach can re-energize the Windows PC market, defined broadly.

The other question: Where Apple will stand by then in the rankings above?

Related: Too much tablet? Apple, Microsoft at risk of overdose

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Greg

    I think the data says it is netbooks being killed off by tablets (mostly the iPad), not the broader PC market.  But it is too early to tell if the broader PC market will be impacted by tablets.

  • Guest

    Ballmer: We love our strategy. The board loves our strategy.

  • Kip Kniskern –

    It would be interesting to know how many of those Mac laptops are running a version of Windows in parallel – Apple began to significantly increase its Mac share when it switched to Intel.

    • Jedike

      Not really much, I know lots of mac users, and not one is running Windows in parallel. All software you need on OSX is there, even M$’s office. So why would it be needed to run a windows in parallel. I am myself also a Mac user, but develop also software on windows. And I can say whatever software and tools I have on windows, I have it also available on OSX. The reason that apple increase it sales when they switch to intel’s has not much to do with the fact that you could run windows on it, because I could do this already before the intel switch. I think it just had to do with the fact that at this moment (and still I think) Intel had just a better processor. An other fact was that also suddenly lots of tools exiting for other platform where easy to port because just of the Inter processor. I think then not only at windows tools and software but also on unix and linux software.

      Look at all popular software’s at the internet and start to count how much of them have also a OSX version…. you will be surprised how much software is already build for OSX. But still, I think indeed it would be nice to do a statistic on what you say. So let me know if you have it ;-).

    • Guest

      Don’t forget about Vista. Their share took off following that.

    • madsen

      I know a lot of mac users (newer converts) who started by installing boot camp, having windows close if they needed it. Most of them have started it 2 or 3 times, and almost forgotten about it. I know one guy who only runs linux on his mac. My experience is most people convert to OS X quite fast. 

  • Guest

    At this point I wouldn’t consider PCs to be “diverging.” I know loads of persons with iPads. I asked them about those purposes for which they use iPad. The answers:

    1. Surfing the web whilst sitting on the couch.

    2. Viewing films on an aeroplane.

    Now, there are certainly a lot of moneyed consumers who want to surf the web whilst sitting on the couch and who want to view films whilst flying. That said, productivity software for iPad is laughable at best. The keyboard itself takes up half the 10″ screen, meaning that composing a document is rather like using a TRS-80 Model 100 with worse battery life. I really don’t see laptop users abandoning their PCs (whether they run Mac OS X or Windows) for iPad for years to come.

    • Guest

      Many won’t abandon their computer. They’re just using it less and less and in no hurry to upgrade it. That’s bad for MS. I’m seeing people using them for the purposes you mention, but also travel computers and even a computer for kids to play games on.

  • Guest

    Now that MS’s hammer lock on end user computing has been broken wide open, particularly by iPad, I expect we’ll see an overall share decline in the future similar to what has unfolded for IE, only more rapid.

    Credit and blame where it’s due. Apple brought the innovation that customers wanted and MS didn’t. And it’s not like MS was late to that market. They helped pioneer it. So it’s only fair that Apple benefits and MS loses out. We’ve seen this several times now. I’m quite worried about MS’s future and the impact on our local economy should they do into a long term decline.

Job Listings on GeekWork