updated 11:15 pm EST, Mon January 13, 2014
'Traditional' PCs outsell Macs 19 to 1, but used to outsell them 56 to 1
Mostly on the back of iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, Apple has been predicted to outsell the combined Windows empire sometime this year, according to statistician and analyst Horace Dediu of Asymco. To reach this conclusion, he combined sales of all of Apple's OS X and iOS products together and compared them to combined Windows sales (including the tablet-based Window RT and Pro, not that it materially affects the results) to arrive at his estimate.
Dediu first made the prediction in 2012 and believes that recent sales figures from the slumping PC economy -- which is most driven by Windows-based machines -- reinforce his original guess. While Windows-based PCs still outsell Macs, there has been an astonishing drop in PC shipments compared to a roughly continuous rise in Mac shipments (though the latter has levelled off in recent quarters).
At its peak in 2004 -- before the reinvention of smartphones and tablets through Apple's iPhone and iPad -- Windows PCs were outselling Macs 56:1 (one Mac for every 56 Windows PCs). Today, such PCs outsell Macs by only 18.8:1, a full percentage drop for PCs in 2013 compared to 2012, while Mac shipments in 2013 were only down slightly from 2012 (Dediu estimates 16.4 million Macs sold versus 17 million in 2012). Windows-based PC shipments in 2013 were at 309 million, compared to their peak of 344 million in 2011.
The fall of desktop (and notebook) PC momentum has largely been attributed to the near-elimination of corporate IT departments as the primary purchasing agents of computers. The rise of the "Bring Your Own Device" movement, originally seen as a cost-cutting move, forced IT techs to support Apple products -- often for the first time -- with a flood of iOS-powered mobile devices (often accompanied by OS X-running Mac notebooks) that redefined how business computing gets done in much the same way consumers have discovered the power of "apps" in recent years. Users preferred Apple when it came to smartphones and tablets, and this often lead to a "halo effect" that influenced them to buy Macs, resulting in an average 50 percent per year increase in Mac shipments from as few as 3.2 million in 2004 to around 17 million just nine years later.
The comparison is inherently unfair, of course -- Apple is one company (albeit a hugely successful one), and Microsoft itself doesn't sell many computers but instead licenses Windows and Windows Phone to hundreds of manufacturers for the most part. The trend, however, is very symbolic of Windows' fortunes overall, and the failure of Microsoft and its partners to come up with a way to keep its flagship desktop OS relevant in a world where even its most hard-core base -- enterprise -- is shifting to mobile devices and cloud services for the bulk of the work formerly done by personal computers.
When considering all of the computing hardware Apple ships versus the total shipped by the "Windows empire," the trend becomes clear. Apple sold an estimated 260 million devices in 2013 all told, combining iOS and OS X sales. Should PC shipments continue to fall in 2014, and Apple product numbers continue to rise, it is entirely possible that Apple could match or even outsell the entire combined output of the traditional PC industry in 2014.
Though the figure would include sales of iPhones for Apple but not Android phones (which are largely not made by traditional PC vendors such as HP and Dell), the event would be symbolic of the sea change the industry is experiencing. Device manufacturers that deal with mobile devices are replacing traditional PC makers, with only Apple seemingly able to bridge the divide -- thanks to its anticipation of the shift in the previous decade.