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Mac Planet: iThink, therefore iMac?

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The battle between Apple and Windows for dominance continues. Photo / Supplied
The battle between Apple and Windows for dominance continues. Photo / Supplied

We've been getting a little philosophical on the evolution of the Mac platform recently, so let's stick with it, at least until I see some of the new equipment in the flesh.

PC sales are still in general decline. Have been for years. Lately, against Apple's trend, even Apple's Mac sales dropped a little (in the last quarter).

Since this figure was from just before the release of new Mac mini, iMac and MacBook Pro 13-inch models, the new machines may well revive Apple's sales. Actually, as a percentage against the entire US PC market, Apple actually took more of the overall percentage of sales, underlining the fact that Apple has still managed to do very well while everyone else suffers from the recession.

A forecast issued by research firm IHS iSuppli projects that nearly 349 million PCs will be shipped this year, representing a one per cent decrease from last year. Over on the Dark Side, of course, Microsoft 8 might slow, halt or even reverse that decline. But so far, Macs retain the Number One desktop and laptop computer spots in the United States' market.

In some US figures (research firm Gartner), Apple Macs represented 13.6 per cent of the market for the third quarter of 2012. Apple's next best performance in was 12.5% of the US market in the third quarter of 2011.

But the figures actually show Apple experienced a year-over-year unit decline of 6.1% in the United States. Meanwhile, other top vendors (apart from Lenovo) posted even steeper declines. The overall US market showed an overall 13.8% decrease in computer shipments. Apple is in third position behind HP and Dell.

But note that IDC's figures differ: IDC places Apple's share of the US market at 12.5 per cent on a shipment decline of 7 per cent. According to IDC, the overall US market shrank by 12.4 per cent.

Of course, Apple's 'computer' sales do not include iPads. I am not about to enter the debate of whether an iPad is a 'computer' or not. Of course it is a computer, but is it equivalent to a desktop or laptop PC? No. So let's leave iPad out of the PC sales equation and leave that discussion for another day. Of course, if I factored iPad sales into Apple's Mac sales, Apple would utterly be wiping the floor with the other main PC brands. Apple has sold over 100 million iPads in the two-and-a-half years since the product launched.

Of course, there are now many tablets out there. And many smartphones. Some of these are 'better' in certain ways compared to Apple's products. Cheaper, bigger, faster etc.

Why couldn't I care? They don't work flawlessly with my other Apple products. Unfortunately for anyone making an Android-based competitor, or for that matter a Windows-based competitor, this is a deciding factor in purchases by Apple fans that's often not taken into account. As Apple fans, we'd either have to get seriously disenchanted with the standard or price of Apple products, or really, really impressed with a competitor's price/spec for us to consider alternatives.

And that, people, is partly why Microsoft is building an ecosystem of its own.

Just like that much criticised by the anti-Apple people. Buy a Windows phone, have an Xbox and a Windows 8-based PC, and they should all work well together. This is a rather delicious twist of Ballmer's 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, just don't ever admit it' philosophy.

He has even admitted recently, to the BBC, that Microsoft is intent on making more 'devices', but Windows 8 may be the make or break point for this, let's say 'interesting', CEO's tenure.

The closed ecosystem model is also something that may come to affect Android users more and more ... unless Google is planning on bringing out an Android OS for PCs.

And why not, actually? Well, for now Google has an ecosystem: it's the Gmail/Google Docs/Android merry-go-round.

But this all brings me back to another factor that is a bit like the elephant in the room. OK, it's not an invisible factor to Apple users, it's just an elephant to everyone else. For us, it's abundantly clear there would be no tablet and smartphone competitors to even speak of if Apple hadn't developed the iPhone, then iPad the way it did.

We know this. You hate admitting it. You will go back to citing one or two lame, virtually unused predecessors that hardly anyone ever heard of that were, nonetheless, around before Apple's. But hey, I never did say Apple invented the tablet and smartphone. I'd just like to reiterate that Apple made smartphones and tablets that were extremely desirable, usable and successful. That's 'all'. There simply would not be real markets for these devices as it now stands if it hadn't been for Apple showing how it should be done.

Lex Friedman on Macworld calls all this 'the circle game': "Apple faces increasing - and fascinating - competition from companies that aim to recreate and then build on Apple's own innovations. Apple's responses to those competitors and the products they create are even more interesting."

Over here in New Zealand, Windows has been continuing to dominate the desktop OS (note this for September, long before Windows 8) and OSX had been sitting around 12 per cent for the last 12 months, according to the stats for the NZ sell-site TradeMe (thanks to Andrew Hale for alerting me to this).

The browser stats, interestingly, show that some Windows users must be surfing with Apple's Safari, since the Apple OS is sitting around 12 per cent while hits from Safari are more like 15 per cent. Google's Chrome browser is also popular (like Safari, Chrome comes in both Mac and PC versions). These are both Webkit-based browsers, unlike Explorer and Firefox.

The NZ-developed online accounting stats from Xero are also interesting. These figures exclude iPad and other traffic to Xero's mobile domains, and cover three months to October this year.

Apple's share of Xero's desktop traffic here sits at 18.15 per cent. That's not indicative of the share of OS X in New Zealand, but of users of Xero, do note, who use Macs. Xero's figures also show a huge proportion of people still using Microsoft's increasingly venerable XP, which might be a pain for the Seattle firm.

If we can get figures like these in a few months time, it will be really interesting to see how Apple's new Macs panned out compared to the introduction of Windows 8.

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