Opinion: 2011 -- The year of the Mac

November 24, 2010 11:29 AM EST

Apple [AAPL] has so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: Mac sales are exploding; the iPad/iPhone/iPod halo is shining; The Beatles have reached iTunes; and in a few weeks time Apple will launch the world's biggest and most convenient consumer software retailer -- the Mac App Store.

Things are looking good.

That's even before you look at Apple's growing slice of the education market or consider the truckloads of AAPL products set to take shelter in this season's gift piles.

All these signs mean next year will be the year of the Mac.

Shiny, shiny 'iHalo'

I'm not whistling in the dark here. There's enough evidence around to support this. Add iPad sales to the mix and you know Apple is the world's biggest PC maker right now, and even Microsoft admits netbook sales are being decimated by iPad love.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Apple recently revealed its latest sales figures, and these confirmed that in the last three years it has nearly doubled quarterly Mac sales. These days, Apple sells almost as many Macs in some quarters as it once sold in a year.

That's more than a resurgence. That's a pattern.

A pattern once predicted to me by Needham & Co. analyst, Charles Wolf, who, years before the iPhone first coined the notion of the 'iPod halo' to suggest the iPod success story would translate into a Mac success story.

And the iPhone -- and now, the iPad, are generating even shinier halos and attracting even more Mac users. Apple's retail outlets see a pattern in which 50 percent of Mac purchasers are new to the platform.

In terms of a computer platform, the Mac is now the most enticing solution out there, at least for consumers who want machines that 'just work'.

(Don't get me wrong, I like Linux, too).

Leading the industry

Apple is shining. And that's what Wolf writes when he notes this week that Apple is growing at three times the rate of the overall global PC market.

This isn't to say the PC industry isn't seeing growth. It is. But Apple's Mac is growing faster than the overall market. That's why Apple climbed to number four the top five PC makers league in the US earlier this year. And that's why the climb's going to continue.

After all -- why shouldn't it? For years, Mac users have been playing with iLife -- an integrated suite of tools for media creation in images, music and video. Microsoft didn't deliver a credible answer to the consumer-focused solution until this year.

That's a lesson people don't forget, particularly after another day in which non-functioning Windows-based systems killed productivity across their place of work.

Enterprise hits the switch

This trend is now visible in the business markets.

They aren't just picking up iPads and iPhones, they're getting into the Mac. "Mac shipments in the business market increased 66.3% compared with just 8.5% shipment growth in the business market overall," Wolf writes.

Not just shipments, but revenue. Apple surpassed Microsoft in total revenue in its September quarter. Look ahead and it doesn't take too much wishful thinking to consider Apple will be on par with IBM next year, and HP the year after that.

Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster predicts that in December, Apple's Mac sales will jump 24 percent year-on-year, not just in the US, but also internationally.

In English, this means Apple may sell between 4.1-4.3 million Macs in the Holiday quarter.

Apple shifted 3.89 million Macs in its September quarter.

Success breeds success

Tomorrow's people are already converted. Apple is the biggest PC maker in the education markets. Children love their (or their parent's) iPhones, iPod touch units and iPads. (My nephew is forever grabbing my iPhone to play games -- he's into Angry Birds at the moment. Which is nice, except he's better than me.)

So Apple has an end-to-end system -- it has enthusiastic new consumers growing up, and happy users of its existing solutions going about their business.

That happiness does lend some to call Apple's people a 'cult', but as that cult grows, when exactly does a cult cease to be a cult?

When is a cult not a cult anymore?

Does Apple's growing importance mean those who dismiss the company as a cult are themselves slowly becoming side-lined to a new Mac mainstream?

We can unravel such philosophical debates in the year ahead, a year which, to all intents and purposes, seems set to become the year of the Mac.

Enjoy Thanksgiving, and good luck shopping on Black Friday. Please feel free to keep up with this blog, follow me on Twitter or RSS.