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Apple's Mac Surge: 4 Observations

Apple's record-breaking Mac sales last quarter were a surprise -- but 2015 could be even bigger.
10 Elegant Product Designs, Not By Apple
10 Elegant Product Designs, Not By Apple
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however, so Apple's actual share is likely somewhat higher. A recent US survey concluded Macs accounted for nearly 27% of consumer PC sales during the back-to-school period.

2. Mac sales validate Apple's recent product strategy.
Earlier this month, Apple released its eye-popping 5K iMac, but other 2014 Mac refreshes have been much more modest, limited somewhat by Intel's manufacturing problems and the subsequent delay of next-generation processors.

The incremental Mac updates might seem uninspiring, but Apple wisely cut prices when it announced this year's refreshed models, effectively giving customers more power for less money compared to last year's offerings. The company also introduced a lower-cost iMac.

Because of the new prices, Macs' average selling price dropped by about $50 compared to the previous quarter. But the tactic led to a 25% quarter-over-quarter increase in sales. Macs also, as mentioned, still cost hundreds of dollars more than Windows PCs. For Apple, a loss of $50 per sale must seem pretty trivial, given that the tradeoff has been utter domination of the high-end, high-profit PC market.

3. Apple's momentum will probably continue.
As strong as Mac sales have been in 2014, 2015 could be even bigger. Apple will continue to enjoy the benefits of its new pricing strategy throughout the holidays. Then, sometime in the first half of 2015, the company will likely introduce its long-rumored MacBook Air with Retina Display. Unless Apple goes truly gonzo with pricing, strong sales will surely follow. MacBook Pros are also due for a more substantial refresh, having received relatively mild spec bumps in 2014.

AppleMacBookAir.jpg

With a $2,500 base price, the 27-inch 5K iMac isn't exactly a mass-market item, but it's still destined to become a favorite among creative professionals and resolution fetishists. Retina-level versions of Apple's smaller iMac will likely arrive late next year with a more affordable price. The Mac Pro, meanwhile, will probably get an upgrade, too, with new Xeon chips that support DDR4 RAM and next-gen Thunderbolt ports. It might arrive with a 5K Cinema Display based on the iMac's screen.

This potentially becomes interesting for Windows and its base of business customers. Windows will remain a major enterprise force for a variety of reasons, but Macs have become more common in the enterprise over time, with BYOD efforts accelerating Mac growth in recent years. In a recent InformationWeek survey of 330 business technology professionals, 32% of respondents indicated their organizations support OS X. Windows PCs still outnumber Macs in many of these environments, but with Windows 10 still many months away, the conditions might be right for Macs to expand even more.

4. Apple probably won't release any touchscreen Macs in 2015. Probably.

Windows OEMs continue to embrace touch-enabled PCs, but Apple has remained resistant to the concept. Don't expect that to change, according to Apple senior VP of software Craig Federighi.

Federighi told CNET this month that Apple has experimented with touchscreen Macs, but execs concluded "it just wasn't any good." He said Apple remains focused on building industry-leading trackpads, and that OS X and iOS should remain related but distinct. Apple execs have frequently argued that touchscreens are awkward for desktop use and that PC gesture input is best left to trackpads.

Then again, what Apple likes today isn't always what Apple likes tomorrow. Steve Jobs famously bashed both large phones and small tablets, but Apple now makes both. Federighi said touch won't come to OS X, but perhaps a little bit of Mac-style productivity could come to iPads. Apple is expected to release the so-called "iPad Pro" with a 12.9-inch screen sometime in 2015.

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