Mini Mostly Meaningless for Mac Market Share

by Chris Seibold Mar 08, 2005

There is a heady feeling floating around the Mac community these days. Mac aficionados are certain the Macintosh platform will shortly undergo a market share renaissance. They will point to the recent introduction of the Mac Mini, the subsequent great press the Mini has generated and increased awareness of Apple in general thanks to the iPod and iTunes. Unfortunately for the faithful all the aforementioned factors add up to a great big pile of nothing. Sure the accolades and heightened awareness are nice but when it comes to market share only one thing matters: getting systems out of the door.

Before delving into the near irrelevancy of the Mini a few points need to be addressed. First the Mac Mini is a fairly great computer. Careful readers will hear a lot of whining about this specification or the cost of that option. Ignore these groans, they stem from professional malcontents who wouldn’t be happy if Apple sold a dual G5 3GHz model for fifty cents (it would probably be too hot or something). Truth be told the vast majority of Macs in use today are no match for the Mini Mac and a lot of people are doing just fine with their older Macs.

The second issue that needs to be examined is the notion that market share is somehow critical to the health of Apple Computer. To some extent market share is crucial, after all a market share of zero is the same as finding your goldfish swimming upside down. On the other hand even with the current anemic market share Macs don’t suffer for lack of available programs or a dearth of developers. By way of example: most shareware developers will tell you that it is much easier to make money producing shareware programs for the Mac instead of Windows. More importantly Apple Computer was making healthy profits before the Mini (and before the iPod and iTunes). Profits speak louder than worried mumbles about low market share. In short: It is not necessary for Apple to gain substantial market share to remain in business. 

So now we are left with two notions: the Mini is great and market share is not the factor many suppose it to be. Taking the latter first we note that while reality may indicate that market share isn’t everything to many Mac users it is a very important thing. Climbing market share numbers mean a validation of a personal choice. Sure it isn’t the most rational thing in the world but it is infinitely more sensible than wagering on spring training baseball games. In any event the market share obsessed will be disappointed. While the supreme grooviness of the Mini was noted earlier it is not such a superlative choice that it will return the Mac platform back to its earlier days as a market behemoth.

You remember the days when the Mac was a market giant, the glory days, back when programs came out for the Mac first and you could stop in any Mall gaming store and find a plethora of Mac choices? Boy those were the days, everyone used a….wait, those days never existed. If a store carried Mac software at all it was limited. Printers and scanners were harder to find than they are now (thanks USB). In fact, one is hard pressed to think of any real advantages the average Mac user had in the Mac’s heyday (1992ish). On second thought there were a few more Mac magazines available, two pages on Photoshop and endless ads. Not the most compelling reason to pine for the (supposed) good old days.

Let us take for granted that the Mac was never too popular (maximum market share 11.2%) and let us also assume that the Mini will be a huge seller. At this point it becomes necessary to look at few numbers. Mac Mini sales for 2005 have been estimated at anywhere from 900,000 to a cool five million. These are good numbers if you own stock in Apple, five million Minis would more than double the number of Macs sold last year when coupled with notebook sales. Unfortunately for the market share obsessed even the most optimistic prognostications won’t result in a return to the market penetration of yore.

Again the numbers tell the story: The Mac’s most popular year was 1992. In that sweet year Apple managed to capture an enviable twelve percent of the computer market. For the Mac Mini to return Apple to that kind of market presence the Mini will have to sell, roughly, 17 million computers. Seventeen million Mac Minis is probably not an achievable number, not only because there aren’t seventeen million people waiting to buy a Mini but because even if there were Apple, one would suspect, could not meet the demand (estimated ship times for the Mini as of this writing “1-2 weeks”).

At this point some of us sit in depressed disbelief at just how far the Mac has fallen but that reaction is not as tenable as the numbers would have one think. It is not so much that Apple has fallen such a dizzying distance it is more the case that the computer market has grown at an incredible pace. Looking through the numbers you’ll note that Apple tends to sell a few more Macs with each passing year. By way of contrast the PC sells more than just a few more PCs every year, they sell scads of them. To put a finer point on it: in 1992 Apple sold 2.5 million computers accounting for a healthy 11.2%. Last year Apple sold 3.5 million computers and accounted for a paltry 2%.

With that in mind let us take a look at what would happen if the Mini sold five million computers this year. Let us also sweeten the deal by allowing that sales of other Macs will remain unchanged. This is no time to be shy, a further supposition that PC sales will grow at a rate of zero will help things out. Those are pretty much best case scenario numbers, numbers akin to jumping out of a plane naked and expecting to find a fully packed parachute floating up at you. Just what would Apple’s new market share be? Roughly 4.7%. Not exactly an earth shattering change. If you want to know what it is like to have a greater than 4% market share cast your mind back to 1997. For a more realistic picture assume 10% growth in PCs and Mac coupled with 900,000 Mac Mini sold and Macs capture a truly non-astounding 2.4% of the market. Great for investors in Apple but nothing that will make a big difference on the magazine rack (think 2002).

At this point it is pretty clear what has happened. Apple has grown their computer business nicely but they haven’t kept up with the growth for computers in general. One would be tempted to opine that the have a fairly static demand curve, people are going to buy three million Macs a year no matter what. Whatever the reason the gap is too large to be narrowed by the introduction of the Mini or be narrowed by any one event in particular. This isn’t like Linux gaining a foothold, to make the change to Mac users must jettison both hardware and software. In short the Mini is a very nice computer and a great addition to Apple’s hardware line up, just don’t expect it to suddenly turn the market share numbers around.


  • Marketshare annoys the heck out of me.

    I read car magazines sometimes. Do I see pages of tripe on which manufacturers only have a small percentage of the automobile market? No.

    I see the market segmented. Family cars; People movers; Luxury cars; Small cars; Large 4WD; Small 4WD; Cross-over vehicles; etc etc etc etc.

    Why doesn’t the same happen in the personal computer market?

    Sure Apple sold 2.5 million personal computers in 1992 and 3.5 million in 2004 and yet lost marketshare. But most of that loss came about because of the growth in the market Apple doesn’t even try to compete in. i.e the general corporate PC/laptop.

    Let’s take those computers out of the picture.

    What about other markets eg Tertiary Education; Secondary Education; Primary; Publishing; Advertising; Graphic design; Home etc etc

    Sure they have lost ground in some of those markets, but their marketshare in some may be significantly higher than 2%

    And if it was clearly shown that Macs accounted for larger percentages in various segments of the market as car makers like to do (instead of glib comments like “We know they’re popular in advertising, but they do only have 2% of the PC marketshare”) then maybe the press and developers might take them more seriously.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 08, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • I agree Chris, market share is an over blown number. Yet listening to the analysts and various mac fans you would think that apple’s share is the only thing that really matters.

    chrisseibold had this to say on Mar 08, 2005 Posts: 48
  • From the last report I’ve read on the Web. Apple is only going to be making roughly 200,000 minis’ a month. Well below your 5 million/year sales event. Unless they have some super secret manufacturer who hasn’t leaked and details or they can ramp up production on a dime expect it o be closer to 1.8 to 2 million. Still great, especially considering that these machines are getting no ad support and no distribution.
    Apple needs to get three things in sync for them to grow market share.
    1. Production, They need to have the quantities of product available when people want them. Apple always seems to have Christmas stock ready by early January. 3 months for the shuffle to start coming on line. huge problem. Too many people will just take their money and buy something else.
    2. Distribution. When you see minis in Wal-marts and Costcos then you will see market share slowly start to rise. Wal-mart will sell palates of the stuff. Apple cannot. Right now like it or not Apple is split in it’s distribution meathodology. They have an online store component but they don’t act or advertise like and on line retailer. more on this later. They have bricks and mortar stores but they don’t do a great job of advertising them. Sure the design magazines know about their glass stairs but where the hell are they? Secondly. Franchise the damn things already. You get full control of the look and feel of the place and I’m sure you could more than triple the amount of stores in 6 months into places/cities that you won’t be in, ever.
    3.Advertising. Sure it’s world class, tons of gold pencils for Chiat, but honestly, you say you’re an online store. Start advertising like one. Where’s the direct mail pieces, the full page ads telling me why it’s important to go to the Apple store and buy stuff AKA Dell. You don’t have to make adcrap like Dell but you do need to get out there.
    You’ve got Tiger, advertise the hell out of it. I know this creates demand that you can’t fill. And this is the vicious cycle that makes Apples market share go nowhere. It’s time to take a leap of faith Apple. Make 10 million of the next rev of the mini before you go and sell them. Then launch huge. 

    mcloki had this to say on Mar 08, 2005 Posts: 25
  • Marketshare is very important. It means that Apple is indeed shipping boxes and it means that the market for 3rd party software increases.  We can bleat on all we like about marketshare but it’s one of those immutable facts. More marketshare is always better than less.

    Not only do I belive that Apple must stem the marketshare deficit in sales but also that they must spearhead the return to viability in the biz sector.

    The Mac seems like a decent platform until you try to build a company based on Mac software and quickly find yourself wading in shareware and cobbled together solutions.  Without marketshare new developers cannot get the appropriate venture capital to get their product off the ground.

    hmurchison had this to say on Mar 08, 2005 Posts: 145
  • utter piffle. are you saying that market share doesn’t matter? it does, you can buy all the windows software whereever you want. Try to find mac software at a walmart no dice. i’ll take fifty percent any day

    JOHAN had this to say on Mar 08, 2005 Posts: 1
  • if the Mac had a lot of marketshare (which means a lot of 3rd party apps) then I would be too busy playing around with shiny shiny apps to get any work done.

    I would be out of a job in mere days: let’s hope they don’t gain too much.

    Nathan had this to say on Mar 08, 2005 Posts: 219
  • What those of who think marketshare is critical forget, is Apple have ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the Mac market.

    That is what allows Apple to stay in the game.

    IBM, who had a greater share of the PC market than Apple, quit the PC market.

    If marketshare of the whole PC market was so critical to Apple, they would be gone tomorrow.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 09, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • First the writer said this “Just what would Apple’s new market share be? Roughly 4.7%. Not exactly an earth shattering change.” He also said that now Apple has about a 2% share, hey 4.7% sounds pretty good, did you take math?
    Oh, excuse me, you said the PC market will have a 10% growth year, where did that come from? I’ve heard a lot talk about a down year, not a 10% growth year. Not a news article here, this was an editorial and anyone could do that. Just be more careful with the assume s##t Mr. writer.


    Bee had this to say on Mar 12, 2005 Posts: 3
  • Yes one must be careful with what one assumes:
    PC market to grow 11.3% in 2005…interesting, no?
    For Apple jumping to 4.7% would be significant but for the industry as a whole it wouldn’t mean much.
    Thanks for the comment

    chrisseibold had this to say on Mar 12, 2005 Posts: 48
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