Strolling the mall with my wife, I was looking for an excuse to visit the Apple Store, but instead I found a reason: the disappearing desktop. “Where have all the desktops gone?” I asked her pointedly. She looked inside the glass front and pointed. “They’re right […]


Strolling the mall with my wife, I was looking for an excuse to visit the Apple Store, but instead I found a reason: the disappearing desktop.

“Where have all the desktops gone?” I asked her pointedly.

She looked inside the glass front and pointed. “They’re right there.”

“Well, yeah, but why are there so few? I need to investigate.”

She sighed. “Don’t buy anything.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I replied. “This is work. Anyway, no one in the know buys anything right before an Apple event.”

Well, not usually.

Inside, a quick count of Macs tallied just thirteen desktops, ten iMacs, two Mac minis, and a single Mac Pro. That contrasted with 36 Mac laptops.

If that disparity surprises, it shouldn’t. A look at a few other numbers tells the tale of the respective rise and fall of Mac laptops and desktops, and maybe what it means to you.

I asked a nice person in a brightly-colored shirt about the dearth of desktops, but he didn’t know anything, not even that there was a brightly-colored Apple event imminent. The invitations were privately sent out from far above the local Apple Store, and thus could not even be officially acknowledged below. That might explain from whence the store layout came.

Luckily, Apple must still divulge at least some information to the public, like Macs sold. Over the last decade laptop sales have been waxing, desktops not quite waning. While it is true desktop sales have seen some growth since the nadir in 2004, desktops have yet to match the sales record set in 2000. While that’s not exactly the end of the world, looking at models in percentage terms of Macs sold does seem a little more apocalypsish.

Those trend lines are no friend of the Mac desktop. For 2009, seven out of ten Macs sold were laptops, and in 2010 that ratio will likely rise to three out of four. While this may explain the single table of iMacs in the back of my local Apple Store, the question now becomes: is the Mac desktop doomed?

Steve Jobs once described Apple’s business model as an uncomfortable piece of furniture, a three-legged stool. What he was getting at is where the money comes from: Macs, iPods and the iTunes Store, and the iPhone.

This is Apple’s business model without the awkward furniture metaphor. Looking forward into 2010, the iPhone is surging, pulling along the iTunes Store, the iPod flattening out, and Macs are holding their own, or rather laptops are. In 2010, the desktop Mac will likely account for just a tenth of Apple’s net sales.

However, it’s important to remember Apple is a company that makes things, four major hardware product types, maybe five soon, but four now.

In 2009, desktop Macs, which include the Xserve, Mac Pro, iMac, and Mac mini had net sales of $4.3 billion on 3.18 million units. That works out to about $1,350 per desktop, and compares favorably with laptops at $9.47 billion in sales on 7.2 million units, around $1315 per laptop. There is no chance Apple is going to take that kind of money off the desktop anytime soon, but an increasingly portable world will continue to have consequences for desktop users.

I was there at Macworld Expo 2005 when the Mac mini was introduced, and five years later it looks pretty much the same, even the new server model sans optical drive. From the outside, the Mac Pro of 2010 looks a lot like the PowerMac G5 of 2003, even though one could arguably create a lighter, more portable mid-tower case with Intel inside. Not going to happen.

While internal changes are required, external redesign of Apple’s desktops would require R&D better spent on, say, a tablet. To that end, only Apple’s flagship desktop, the iMac, has seen, and will likely see, further refinement. From polycarbonate to aluminum and glass, to maybe a dock/slot for a tablet, the iMac has effectively become the desktop Mac.

If you are the Panera Bread iMac Man, you probably won’t notice, but for the rest of us desktop Mac users the future will pretty much look like the past.

  1. tbh, is this really a suprise? In fact, this is hardly Apple related. Desktops in general have very little value over laptops in this day and age. Laptops can do almost any task a normal user would require with relative easy and as an added bonus come with portability around your house and elsewhere.

    Unless you’re a power user, the choice of Desktop vs. Laptop is quite easily made in favor of the latter. It’s not like the price of either is that far apart anymore either.

    1. Exactly. I used to always use a desktop years ago, but now with cheaper more powerful laptops sometimes a whole month will go by without the need to boot up my desktop.

    2. Ahh.. well…. Not EVERYBODY is a ‘power user’, but I think that HIGH END MacPro-Tower systems will remain in the marketplace, since without CONTENT CREATION, what will all the people with portables and laptops VIEW on their smaller, less powerful equipment?

      Without a top-end MacPro system, doing rich-media content creation just doesn’t work worth a damn!
      The lack of SERIOUSLY powerful CPU’s, limitations of RAM, and lack of hyperspeed GPU’d graphics cards on the Macbook, MBP, and iMac leave them in the dust, compared to the MacPro Tower… I’m waiting for the new about-to-be-announced dual hex-core MacPro tower, with up to 128GB of ram across 8 slots. THAT may be a “niche” product, but without it, Apple will be sidelined in the “content-creation-biz.”

    3. It seems that Apple isn’t concerned about the mac pro. Personally, I think within 3 years from now Apple is going to pull the plug on the mac pro, leaving the imac, and mac mini and 36 different laptops to supercede it.

      I can say with certainty that the mac pro’s future is not very bright – If you see the latest ipad and other electronics where Apple makes most of its money, you can see that Apple really isn’t rushing to bring out a new mac pro. I don’t see it coming anytime soon.

      I am happy with my 2008 mac pro.. wouldn’t trade it up for the world.

  2. The Apple Store by me in the Palisades Mall, Nyack, NY is a pretty big store. The mall is HUGE! And for the record, there’s no Mac Pro on display at all in that store.

  3. Apple’s Desktops to Disappear Eventually?|Tasty Slate Monday, January 25, 2010

    [...] Appleblog offers up an interesting op-ed piece today regarding the future of desktop Macs as their portable, iPhone, iPod and soon to be tablet computers take a larger and larger share of [...]

  4. I noticed the same thing when I was in the Apple Store on Friday,,,didn’t give it much thought,,,interesting nonetheless…

  5. Stan Winstone Monday, January 25, 2010

    Could not agree more. If the tablet works as a reasonably well-powered desktop replacement via a dock with keyboard and mouse- there’s no reason for a majority of users to ever need a dedicated desktop machine. http://tastyslate.com/2010/01/25/apples-desktops-to-disappear-eventually/

  6. How anyone does development work on a laptop is beyond me. I don’t have that skill set.

    I’d have to have a mirror display and something other than a touch pad. That’s called an iMac.

  7. Not really surprising, the Apple store is for consumers, home users mostly. How many home uses do you know with Mac Pro’s? I don’t know any and I know dozens and dozens of local Mac users. The mini is a niche best suited as an entry or second computer for most, it really has no space saving advantage since it still requires a screen and cost isn’t really a benefit either now that the base macbook can be found for only a couple hundred more with the exact same specs but with a screen, keyboard, touchpad and portability. Both configurations look identical on the outside so as far as sensory sales go is there any need to show more than one?

    Most home users don’t tweak their own hardware, for them the iMac has all the features if not better features of the higher end PC’s with a form and elegance thats hard to beat and prices have become much more competitive, in fact when things like LED backlighting and resolution come into play its a bargain.

    People needing high end gear like xserves and Mac Pro’s are more likely to have them custom ordered online anyway, so filling a store with them is likely to be considered wasted display space to people managing the stores, better to have 5 stations with something people will actually walk of the store with than dedicate half of them to a product that some may want to “look” at but buy online.

  8. I don’t care whether Apple sells more laptops or desktops as long as the trend line and bottom line is upward.

  9. For serious work, you really can’t beat a desktop in terms of processing power and screen real estate. When I dipped my toe into Apple Land, I got a mac book as, at that time, it suited my nomadic lifestyle… but the screen is just too small to do any serious DTP or development work… so it ended up tethered to an external monitor. I recently got a 27″ quad core iMac and the gigantic real estate and processing power are a joy to behold (and quite frankly s**t on my previous portable + monitor setup).

  10. I would figure this goes for most computer makers out there these days. People like portability and I don’t know many people now who have a “computer room”, it has moved to all corners of their house.

    It’s the production companies, design houses and science facilities who are buying up the big bulky desktops.

    I wouldn’t trade my Quad Core desktop for anything but another faster desktop. There isn’t anything to compare it too!

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