Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 24th Feb 2009 13:42 UTC
Apple Whenever we're talking market share and Macs, it'll inevitably get late. There are different means of measuring market share, and different ways to interpret the resulting data, usually leading to heated debates about who is right and who isn't. Ars decided to take a look at the different methods of measurement and see what they mean.
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Lies, damned lies, and statistics
by elsewhere on Wed 25th Feb 2009 05:56 UTC
elsewhere
Member since:
2005-07-13

Browser statistics are interesting, but irrelevant, unless they're coming from a company like Google, which is one of the only web entities I would consider to be large enough in global userbase to overcome cultural, lingual, market and regional biases in terms of relevancy. Not perfect, but much better. But since Google et al. don't release browser stats, which is actually a shame, everything else represents a biased-sample.

Market share is an ambiguous concept. Most references to market share refer to % of dollars sold. 90% of the global organizations could be running Debian on all of their servers, but Microsoft would still dominate market share because that remaining 10% is paying for their Windows licenses.

More relevantly, Apple's average retail price is more than double their closest competitors, so Apple can sell half as many systems as anyone else, while still maintaining market share.

Unit share is more interesting, because it covers the number of units that a manufacturer actually sold, rather than the cumulative value of the units they sold.

This is where the numbers game comes into play.

In Jan 08, Apple laptops represented 15% of all laptops sold in the US, but that dropped to slightly over 13% for Jan 09. Yet, Apple sold more laptops in Jan 09 than Jan 08. More interesting, their market share in terms of retail dollars spent is almost exactly flat between Jan 08 and Jan 09.

Which metric do you want to go by? You can argue Apple's unit share is dropping, you can argue that Apple is increasing their unit shipments, or you can argue that their market share is flat. This is the game that marketing people like to play.

I'm not an Apple fanboi by any means, but I have to say, in business terms, Apple is doing phenomenally well in the retail space. They're effectively maintaining their market position despite being more expensive than the competition (when looking at the average price of the overall units sold).

There's a couple of interesting factors that will come into play. First of all, netbook sales are becoming fairly significant in terms of units shipped, although they're a relative drop in the bucket in terms of dollars spent. Netbooks weren't even on the map for most of 2008, but starting around September, they made a noticeable impact in unit sales.

The increase in netbook sales, considering Apple doesn't sell one, does somewhat dilute the stats for the other top tier companies and that will impact the average sell price those manufacturers are seeing for their products. Does this impact Apple? Not directly, but in a stressed economic time, it does raise the question of whether existing customers will be spending money to purchase new Apple systems versus the convenience of a much cheaper netbook for portability.

Then there is the fanboi factor. One thing Apple has done a remarkable job of is building a fanatically loyal userbase. On this aspect I don't have hard numbers to go by, but I'd suspect that Apple probably tops the other manufactuers in terms of customer willingness to remain with the brand. The fanboi factor comes into play with that segment of customers that will never choose an alternative platform. But the fanbois only represent a segment of the existing market, the question is how large? There are a number of "casual" customers that chose Apple over the last couple of years, versus the long-term Apple users, but again, the question is, how many?

Apple, regardless of how people try to do the mathematics comparing their products against competitors, is a premium brand. It commands a premium price, and Apple earns a premium margin. Good for them, they've clearly been doing something right.

Still, given the current economic condition, there's a very valid question of how long Apple will be able to maintain their market with that premium pricing. As I pointed out above, Apple's average sell retail price for each laptop is more than double that of their closest competitors. Apple may be dropping slightly in terms of unit share, but they are still second in terms of dollar share. Will Apple be able to rely on existing customers being able to upgrade to newer systems? Will Apple be able to rely on agnostic customers they may have gained over the last few years being willing to pay a premium to upgrade? Will Apple lose out in the consumer choice between a newer Apple or a much cheaper but practical netbook?

I'm not bothering to look at desktop sales, because that's a whole separate set of numbers that I'm too lazy to analyze, since they're pretty much plummeting overall for every manufacturer, including Apple.

Apple has been doing something remarkably right with their product marketing, and it has been working for them. Though I don't use a Mac, and can't envision myself doing so any time in the near future, my hat is still off to them for that. I do think that the next year will be a remarkable test of how loyal a customer base they have, and their true ability to recruit new customers. That's where the numbers will become interesting, and the spinning of them, even more so. I'm not willing to place bets one way or the other, at this point.

Just my rambling 2c...

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