updated 10:32 pm EST, Thu February 20, 2014
More likely to upgrade, stay up-to-date on OS, software
Mac users are almost four times more likely to upgrade to the latest version of OS X than Windows users are, and that 41.7 percent of current Mac users can be defined as "engaged" (meaning, among other things, that they run up-to-date software and OS versions as well as use the Internet frequently), compared to just 11.6 percent of Windows users who meet the same criteria. Overall, Macs account for nearly a quarter of the "up-to-date" computer user market.
Computerworld's Jonny Evans took recent statistics from a combination of various analyst estimates along with NetApplications data on desktop market share and found that Windows 8 (at around 175 million users) and all recent versions of OS X (at around 127 million users) -- both figures are averages from a low-high range -- are closer than most consumers would have imagined. On drilling down into the figures, however, Evans discovered that only a fraction (not quite 12 percent) of the overall Windows base has been "persuaded to upgrade" to the latest version, meaning that since the release of XP in 2001, they've had to (or wanted to) buy a machine with running Windows 8. By comparison, Apple has about 41.7 percent of its base using the most recent version of OS X.
This still gives Windows 8 a significant advantage, with three times more users than those running OS X Mavericks -- but when one focuses on only those computers that are running fully "up-to-date" OS and software, the Windows lead is far smaller than when all versions of both operating systems are counted. In terms of net traffic among just Windows 8 and Mavericks, Apple's OS accounts for nearly a quarter of the PCs used to access the Internet.
Apple's success in growing its legion of what Evans calls "engaged" users (that is, owners of recent machines that stay up-to-date on software and OSes and heavily utilize the Internet) is due to a combination of factors, but a big one is Microsoft's failure to keep its enormous base "engaged." Some 30 percent of the Windows userbase is still running Windows XP, released in 2001. Almost 48 percent are on Windows 7, the previous major release. Only 10.58 percent of Windows computers run the latest Windows 8 software, despite at least 60 percent of the userbase being on machines that could run it if they wished to.
Negative reaction to the changes in Windows 8 (having followed on the heels of tepid acceptance of Windows 7, following the outright hostility to Windows Vista) has continued to erode the active Windows userbase, leaving customers more and more open to finding an alternative -- the most popular of which is the Mac (among traditional computers). At the same time, many consumers are abandoning traditional desktops (in particular) and notebooks (to a lesser degree) altogether, relying increasingly on smartphones, tablets and "phablets" to handle the bulk of their lighter computing needs. In essence, Windows users are slowly jumping ship to Android, iOS, and Macs (in that order).
This trend has hurt Microsoft far more than Apple, though Apple's Mac business has also suffered -- in the third calendar quarter of 2013, the company reported an unprecedented drop in Mac demand (whereas Mac growth usually outpaces growth of the PC industry's average, and has done for years). While demand bounced back in the holiday quarter, Mac growth is only a trickle compared to the growth of Apple's iPhone and iPad devices. For PC makers overall, demand in both the enterprise and consumer sector is down -- with little hope of a reversal in buying patterns, and a general sense that the desktop PC era peaked a few years ago. Apple, more than almost all of the traditional PC makers, is insulated from the fall in PC sales through its strong mobile device lineup.
What's important, Evans argues, is not that Macs will never overtake PCs, but that Microsoft's mobile business has largely failed to find an audience -- leaving the Redmond giant with a slowly-dwindling audience for its core product, Windows. Apple, in the meantime, has made its OS X product work more closely with its iOS counterpart -- and while not planning to fuse the two, has made it easy for OS X users to adopt and adapt to iOS (and, Apple hopes, vice-versa), and already has a dominant position in the PC's likely replacement, the tablet.
Keeping customers engaged, he says, is key to leadling a growing pool of customers that tend to buy the latest devices, anticipate any new devices that come to market, don't tend to stray to other competitors into the future. Staying up-to-date on software also benefits third-party developers, which strengthens the application market for those platforms, and users.