Worldwide computer shipment growth for 2011 ended on a slightly positive note, growing to 1.8% on the year, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) research group (http://www.idc.com). This year is expected to see only modest growth, though I suspect the Mac will continue to see higher-than-average sales.
After all, as CEO Tim Cook has pointed out, the company's global share of the personal computer market is in the single digits. That offers room for a LOT of growth. On Monday during a press conference, Cook said that Apple's pipeline is "full of stuff" and that customers will be "incredibly pleased" with what they see coming out. Let's hope that much of that great stuff involves the Mac.
Maybe that's the MacBook Pro Air. Maybe it's an iMac with television features that hint at the rumored "iTV." Maybe it's a hybrid iPad and MacBook Air. Maybe it's Macs with retina displays. The personal computer may be a "mature market," but it's by no means a saturated market, especially in Apple's case. Now Cook and Company need to bring out Macs that make our jaws drop in ways that the iPad and iPhone have of late.
Innovation in the computer arena could push the Mac forward even more. For much of 2011, vendors struggled to maintain consumer interest in a market beset by a tenuous economic recovery and disrupted by emerging computing devices, according to IDC. The lack of interest was evidenced by a lackluster Christmas season (the Mac being an exception). Mature markets such as the United States and Western Europe, in particular, had a rough year, with personal computer shipments in 2011 shrinking by 9% compared to 2010.
Looking ahead, the computer market will still enjoy pockets of growth, particularly in emerging markets. IDC expects 2012 growth to be modest at just 5.0% for the year, with most of that growth occurring in the latter half of the year.
"Many consumers are holding off making computer purchases at the moment because tablet devices like Apple's iPad are proving to be a powerful distraction," according to Bob O'Donnell, vice president of Clients and Displays at IDC. "However, end user surveys tell us that few people consider media tablets as replacements for their computers, so later this year when there is a new Microsoft operating system, available in sleek new PC form factors, we believe consumer interest in PCs will begin to rebound."
The IDC survey underscores what I've said many times. For many people, the iPad is a complement to their computer, not a replacement. The "halo effect" of the Apple tablet can spur sales of Mac laptops and desktops.
Although emerging markets have continued to show good uptake, IDC has slightly reduced its outlook in some regions. The 2012 forecast for China has been lowered to 9%, the first time single-digit growth has been forecast for a year. Part of the adjustment amongst emerging markets comes from the shortage of disk drives, which greatly impacts white box computer manufacturers who play a prevalent role in these markets. Secondly, the prospect of slowing exports will also likely affect computer spending as both consumers and SMBs in developing countries scale back.
However, the iPhone and iPad have been major hits in China. Some truly innovative Macs could capitalize on this love of Apple and be big sellers in China.
Overall computer sales may be lackluster overall. However, should Apple show the Mac the love it shows its iPad and iPhone line, our favorite computer platform can continue to buck this trend.
-- Dennis Sellers