The Mac didn’t do as bad as the PC last quarter, but it’s stopped growing

iMac October 2012 event

If you’re looking for positive news in the world of desktops and laptops, the story of the Mac is about as good as it gets — and even that story is not that great. For the second straight quarter, Apple, which has regularly reported industry-beating growth rates over the past few years, again saw its Mac sales stall.

Apple said it sold 3.95 million Macs during its second fiscal quarter, which is ever-so-slightly below the 4.01 million it sold a year ago. That followed its fiscal first quarter sales of 4.1 million Macs, which were down 22 percent from the 5.2 million sold a year prior.

Quarterly Mac sales

Now, the Mac’s quarter seems fantastic when compared to the global PC industry: between January and March, IDC found that just 76.3 million PCs shipped worldwide. That’s a 14 percent decline over a year and made for the worst quarter for the PC market since IDC started counting in 1994.

While Windows-based PC sales have been dismal for several quarters, if not years, the last two quarters have been an aberration for Apple. Before then the company had consistently seen the Mac grow faster than the broader PC market, and CEO Tim Cook has predicted for many quarters on end that PC sales were being replaced by iPad sales.

It’s looking like this is now happening to Macs as well. Cook said of the PC industry, “it’s the largest decline I can remember” while pointing out that “at the same time we sold almost 20 million iPads.” But he admitted that the Mac is not immune.

Still, he tried to put a positive spin on things:

That said, I don’t think this market is dead or a bad market by any means. I think it has a lot of light to it. We’re going to continue to innovate. We think huge growth in tablets may wind up benefiting the Mac. It pushes people to think about the product they’re buying in a different manner.

But a careful listen to other comments about the quarter’s Mac sales made by his colleague show that he probably shouldn’t sound so happy. CFO Peter Oppenheimer noted on the same earnings call that the nearly 4 million Mac sales included “strong desktop sales” but those were “offset by weaker portable sales.”

Strong desktop sales signals that Apple has finally caught up with demand for its new iMac models —  they debuted in October, but supply chain problems meant they didn’t hit store shelves until early December — and that’s good. But desktop sales have not been a consistent relied-upon source of growth for Apple; the Mac’s growth in unit sales has come from the popularity of the MacBook. That sales of notebooks were “weaker” this quarter is potentially worrisome for the overall trajectory of the Mac over the next few quarter when iMac sales drop back to normal levels, given that desktop sales have been on the decline for years across the broader PC market.

So while Apple is still managing to do better than most of its Windows PC brethren, it appears that, if not for problems Apple had during the holiday quarter, Mac sales during this quarter could have seen an even bigger drop in growth.

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