It’s hard out there for a Mac lover

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

It’s hard being a Mac user these days, isn’t it? It seems like you’re getting hit on two fronts right now. On the one side, Apple is slowing down on iterating on Mac hardware, and Windows-based PCs are starting to get faster in not-insignificant ways. On the other side you have iPad users who are like “come on man, you know the iPad is the future!” What are you to do?

I’m not interested in the Mac vs Windows debate right now (although who cares how fast a computer is that doesn’t run software I enjoy?), and instead want to focus on Apple’s internal struggle to balance their two major desktop computing platforms; iOS and macOS.

This debate in the Apple community is interesting because each side, Mac fans and iPad fans, can see what they want to see based on the numbers they use. I personally am on the side of the iPad becoming more and more of the Mac replacement. I base that on my personal use of the product, my anecdotal evidence based on what I see in the world, and also because the sales of iPads are far higher than the Mac.

I was able to get sales numbers from Apple’s quarterly reports, and Apple let slip a few good numbers in their Mac Pro gathering last week, which then let me break down Mac sales by device with some semblance of accuracy. Here’s how it breaks down based on 1,000 customers:


Let me break that down into more digestible numbers:

For every 1,000 Apple customers:

  • 714 will buy an iPad
  • 286 will buy a Mac
  • 229 of those Macs are laptops
  • 57 of those Macs are desktops
  • 9 of those Macs are Mac Pros (rough guess based on Gruber’s “single percentage” quote. I gave it 4% of all Mac sales)

Note, these are based on the past 24 months of sales.

Looking at just this it seems clear that Apple should put all their effort into the iPad, right? The Mac accounts for just 28% of their personal computer sales, which means they’re successfully cannibalizing themselves, right? I would say yes.

But the other side of this coin adds a wrinkle into this whole thing. Apple is a business, after all, and at the end of the day it’s all about cash, and Macs bring in more of it than iPads. Yes, even though Apple sells almost 3x as many iPads, the Mac still brings in more revenue.

Again, this is based on the last 24 months, in which the Mac made $48.9 billion and the iPad made $43.9 billion.

I personally think that Apple should put most of their Mac focus on the pro sector right now. Pros spend absurd amounts of money, and their needs are more predictable than those of the mass market. In general, you want to give them more power all the time. As soon as you think they have enough power, give them more.

Meanwhile, Apple should focus on making the iPad an even better platform and continue to push it has a personal computer, not just a media and game player. Convert those buying MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and even some MacBook Pros into iPad Pro owners. Let the Mac be the Mac. Allow it to lean into it's legacy platform status and embrace what makes it great, but all those customers buying entry level Macs should be convinced that their next Apple computer is an iPad, not another Mac. The Mac is becoming and smaller and smaller niche all the time. It's a profitable niche, but a niche nonetheless.