Mac sales are on the up now, but is a downfall inevitable?

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Apple's Mac business is still growing... but how?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple was the only computer maker that didn’t endure a blue Christmas, with Mac sales up 3 percent year-over-year as worldwide PC shipments declined. But for how long can the Mac business continue to fight on, immune to the growing thread from other industries?

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2Smartphones and tablets are now capable at handling many of our daily tasks, and every year they get better. Will the iPad Pro ever be powerful enough to replace your iMac, or will we forever be reliant on powerful processors and dedicated GPUs?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over these questions and more!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell (Writer, Cult of Android): Apple certainly isn’t feeling the strain of falling PC sales like other manufacturers are, and it’s terrific to see the Mac growing even today. But I get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable happens and the Mac business becomes a very specialist one.

With smartphones and tablet ubiquitous today, and getting better every year, lots of people simply don’t need PCs anymore. And many of those who do use them sparingly, so they don’t want to pay Apple prices. Then there’s the rise in popularity of 2-in-1 tablets that turn into laptops, which present an ideal form factor for casual computer users.

There will be a need for Macs for a long time — I’m not suggesting there won’t — but at some point, I envision sales will start falling… and they won’t stop. I can see a Mac becoming almost entirely a professional tool for things like graphic design, video editing, and music production — and I’m not sure how Apple can stop that, without maybe making a 2-in-1 of its own.

Do you share the same concerns?

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac):Not really. There’s a whole lot of “I get the feeling” and “I envision” in your question, which really just comes down to a lack of hard evidence on your part. The fact is that Mac sales have defied the rest of the PC industry by continuing to rise. It’s true that Apple sells a relatively paltry number of Macs compared to iPhones, but the fact is that this remains a successful and profitable business for Apple to be in.

There’s no doubt that a lot of people are buying tablets instead of PCs these days, but there are many, many tasks people can’t or don’t want to use tablets or smartphones for, and those are the jobs that keep Macs viable as a product line. You claim that Macs will become a “specialist” business for professionals, but this is also a market which just keeps on growing.

There are more people coding software, editing videos, using tools like Photoshop etc. than at any other point in history. That’s a market that’s growing, not shrinking, and it’s something Apple has played a big part in, and which Macs are perfectly suited for. Pushing Macs as productivity tools and in markets like enterprise is only going to increase demand.

Call it a cynical Apple “halo effect” if you want, but the fact is that we’re many years after the end of the Mac as the digital hub Steve Jobs once referred to it as, and Macs are a business which continues to grow. Apple execs have been very clear that there is no 2-in-1 device in the immediate future, and with sales being what they are, why would they change this? From build quality to security to software, more than 30 years after their creation, the Mac is still king.

Is Apple at all worried about the iMac's future?
Is Apple at all worried about the iMac’s future?
Photo: Apple

Killian-FNFKillian: Oh, I totally agree that the Mac business is successful and profitable, and I also believe Apple should keep fighting to stay in it. I’m a Mac user, and I’m sure I’ll be buying Macs for at least a few years yet, so I don’t want to see them go anywhere.

But looking at the way in which the PC industry has declined, and the competition desktop computers and laptops face today from tablets and 2-in-1s, it seems you only really need a dedicated PC for gaming and other intensive tasks.

I appreciate that the specialist market is growing, but at the same time, other devices are adapting to become better equipped at serving that market. You can code, edit images and videos, write a novel, and make music on an iPad now — and iOS and Windows 10 (and maybe Android?) are only going to get better at handling these things on tablet devices.

Photographers, filmmakers, graphic designers, and writers don’t have to be tied to an office anymore; they can use their iPad Pro to carry out all kinds of tasks on location, or sat in a coffee shop. And in some cases, having a large touchscreen makes things easier. The ever-increasing power and functionality of tablets also helps.

It’s not that I don’t think Macs are good enough to fight on, then — or that Apple is doing something wrong. It’s that mobile devices are getting so good at handling with the tasks we carry out every day, there’s going to come a time when computers are a niche.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke:If that’s the case, what is your explanation for the continued rise of Mac sales? I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don’t think any computer with an Apple logo slapped on it is going to sell like hotcakes. We’ve seen a decline in iPad sales over the past few years, all while that Macs have continued to increase their unit sales year-on-year. How do you explain that?

Have you ditched your notebook for an iPad Pro yet?
Have you ditched your notebook for an iPad Pro yet?
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Killian-FNFKillian: Well, I’ll admit that tablets aren’t good enough to replace PCs for everyone yet. There are still lots of tasks you need a desktop with a high-end processor and a powerful GPU for. But every year the tablet gets better, so it seems like it’s just a matter of time.

Let’s take the iPad Pro, for instance. With its large display and split-screen multitasking, it is finally equipped to replace the laptop for a growing list of tasks. Then there’s Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, which are insanely powerful for portable devices. These things will be even greater and even more capable this time next year.

Look, I’m not saying the Mac is going to die tomorrow, or next year, or the year after that. All I’m saying is, with mobile devices and software getting even more powerful, we’ll need computers less and less.

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: I sense some floundering here, Killian. Computers have definitely changed their functionality since Apple introduced the Macintosh back in 1984, or shipped the Apple II before that. But there’s no evidence to support that Macs are going away. If anything, the struggle of the iPad shows the difficulty in building a successful, sustainable middle category between PCs and smartphones.

You’re not wrong that the computing landscape continues to alter rapidly. I truly believe Macs are in it for the long run, though. Just speaking for myself, I use my iMac more than any other Apple product — and that includes my iPhone. And judging by the number of people I know who have gone out and bought Macs over the past year, it really doesn’t feel like an irrelevant product category in its death throes.

Let’s turn it over to readers, though. Do you think the Mac is a relic of a bygone age that will be all but replaced by tablets and smartphones in the coming years? Is the current rise of sales just an anomaly? Or, like me, would you struggle to live without your Mac? Leave your comments below. And have a great weekend!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?