Reasons Why Not To Choose a Macintosh

Reason 33 of : “Macs have got a tiny market share”

“The Macintosh platform is not popular. Its market share is tiny compared to the Windows platform; probably little more than 3%. Is it wise to buy into a platform whose sole purveyor is such small fry? And surely if Macs were any good, more folk would choose them. But instead, the world has spoken, and they've chosen Windows. Probably best you follow suit...

...right?”


Okay, let's talk market share! Four points to cover:

  1. What is 'market share'?
  2. What is the Mac's market share?
  3. Why does the Mac have the market share it does?
  4. Does it matter?

1. What is 'market share'?

Right off the bat, one thing market share is not, is an indicator of how many people use a particular product. What market share is however, is simply what percentage of total unit sales a particular product or brand had, in a particular market, in a particular time period, in a particular location.

In overall market share, all unit sales are counted as equal. For example, a $300 budget netbook is a sale just as significant as a $5,000 professional workstation. That would be analogous to a sale of a $10,000 Hyundai being looked on as equal in significance to a $200,000 Bentley. Plus piles of unsold PCs sitting in a retail outlet's warehouse counts, whereas 3 year old PCs still in active everyday use, doesn't.

Now all this may mean something to marketing men in suits, but what does it mean to the man in the street deciding which computer to buy? Probably very little... or at least it should.

Installed user base share is a much more telling statistic, but unfortunately, that's not really possible to accurately, definitively determine.


2. What is the Mac's market share?

As touched on above, determining a definitive market share can vary wildly, depending on many factors. For example:

But of course, as said before, being as market share only tells you how many units are being sold right now, that doesn't tell you how many PCs purchased in years past are still being actively used, i.e. the installed user base. How many PCs sold 5 years ago are still in everyday use today for instance?

Traditionally, a higher percentage of vintage Macs have tended to be kept running, and indeed still being sold on the used market, long after a similar percentage of similarly vintage PCs have been sent to landfill or consigned to attic storage. But whether that's still the case today, is difficult to say with any certainty. If it is, that would indicate the Mac's installed user base will be higher than current market share would suggest.

Just gimme some numbers, dammit!

Mac market share statistics - 2nd quarter 2009
Territory Total PC sales Mac sales Market share Place
Worldwide 68.1 million 2.6 million 3.8% n/k
United States 16.3 million 1.4 million 8.7% 4th
United Kingdom 2.6 million 136 thousand 5.3% 5th
Elsewhere (excl. US & UK) 49.2 million 1 million 2.1% n/k
(Sources: Gartner, World & US & UK / Apple financial statement)

3. Why does the Mac have the market share it does?

This whole site is devoted to reasons why more people don't buy Macs than do, so we won't go over it all again. So I'll just look as some of the major reasons perhaps not covered as extensively elsewhere.

Budget vs. prestige

Firstly, given how much Macs cost, it's hardly surprising. The biggest number of PCs sold are of the budget variety. Big numbers, big market share, but small profit. This is one market Apple have not bothered to fill to any serious degree. And why would they? Why put resource into a market that isn't going to bring home the bacon, and only serve to dilute the prestige of the brand? Market share for the sake of market share means nothing.

You may ask why the likes of Dell and HP and all the other multitude of PC manufacturers pursue market share much more vigourously? After all, shifting millions of budget PC boxes is no more profitable for them than it would be for Apple, so why do it?

Probably the biggest reason is because they have to. Competing directly with each other as just another Windows OEM with little to differentiate them from each other, getting people into the brand and away from the competition is paramount. And if a super-cheap box with razor-thin margins can do that, then so be it. Attract a consumer to their brand with the promise of a bargain, and maybe they just might buy some expensive optional extras with it, or something more profitable later.

Apple on the other hand differs in that while the Mac is a subset of the PC platform, it still has enough differentiation to stand it out alone as a distinct and separate platform with no direct competition. If you want a Mac, you gotta buy a Mac. As such, Apple have the freedom to pick and choose which markets and niches to appeal to. They choose the ones that make money, not necessarily the ones that make market share.

Info: See also reason 3 – 'Macs are too expensive'.

Plus...

Secondly, while Apple actively market their Mac range of PCs in the US, outside of their home market, they're somewhat less aggressively marketed, if at all. Plus, there are large territories around the world where Apple do not have any significant retail presence. As such, this probably largely explains why there is such a large gap between US market share and elsewhere.

Info: See also reason 17 – 'Nobody sells Macs around here'.

And...

Thirdly, there's the corporate market. A large percentage of PCs sold, are into business where Windows is entrenched. It is largely set in its ways, but with good cause as Microsoft is much more focussed on the needs of business than Apple are. As such, it does all serve to more than halve the potential market share of Macs, whose share of the overall market is almost entirely into the home consumer market, plus smaller niche markets such as educational, publishing, and creative industries where Apple is much more focussed.

Info: See also reason 6 – 'We've got PCs at work/school'.


4. Does it matter?

While the Mac's market share compared to most other PC manufacturers is quite healthy, from a computing platform perspective, the Mac is a very distant 2nd. But the burning question is, is it a problem, and is it a persuasive argument for giving it a miss?

Despite Apple not shifting the biggest number of units, they are one of the most profitable, so from their business perspective, clearly a small market share is not of much of a problem for them. So any question of Apple going down the tubes, and hence the Mac platform not being around for much longer, is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Info: See also reason 25 – 'Apple will go out of business eventually'.

And the bad news?

If there is a downside to small market share, it surrounds the platform's third party ecosystem.

The viability of a computing platform is largely dictated by how much third party support it receives in the form of software, hardware, and content. The smaller the share, the less compelling it is for those third party developers and providers to devote resources to providing support and compatibility with their products. And consequently, the less software, hardware, and content available, the less compelling the platform becomes for potential buyers. Catch 22. Therefore, anything that causes, or does nothing to break this cycle, is obviously undesirable.

So is the Mac's market share too low to be a viable platform?

We know there are less software titles for Mac OS than Windows; and there will be the occasional bit of peripheral hardware that isn't supported (usually relating to driver software); and there will be some audio, video, or web content that isn't compatible with any Mac OS software (usually relating to proprietary Microsoft standards restricted to their platform only); but on the whole, for most people, in most circumstances, most of the time, there's enough.


So in summary...

...small market share in itself is not a problem. At least not for Apple. But for the consumer, the consequences of such could potentially, occasionally be a minor inconvenience. The platform that fewer people use may be compromised in that compatibility and support may not be seen as imperative by third party developers. But is it enough to avoid the platform altogether? I guess that's a matter of perspective.

Page content last updated 7 September 2009