The PC is dying. The iPad and Mac are not

January 26, 2012 8:47 AM EST

The PC is dying. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what's coming:  Apple [AAPL] continues to dominate the so-called 'tablet' market, with Amazon's Kindle Fire picking-up converts at the low end -- squeezing other players out of the game. And Apple's Mac sales are propping up the entire PC industry.

Apple's brave new world

The latest Strategy Analytics figures tell us global tablet shipments climbed 150 percent. Apple captured 58 percent of 27 million units in Q4, while Android devices took 39 percent. "Apple shrugged off the much-hyped threat from entry-level Android models this quarter," said Peter King, Director at Strategy Analytics, in a press release.

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, observed: "Android captured a record 39 percent share of global tablet shipments in Q4 2011, rising from 29 percent a year earlier. Global Android tablet shipments tripled annually to 10.5 million units. Dozens of Android models distributed across multiple countries by numerous brands such as Amazon, Samsung, Asus and others have been driving volumes. Android is so far proving relatively popular with tablet manufacturers despite nagging concerns about fragmentation of Android's operating system, user-interface and app store ecosystem."

While I can accept that strong sales of the Android-powered Kindle Fire and moves to shift stocks of failed Android-powered tablet devices will have impacted general market share figures, I find these figures challenging to configure in terms of real-world experience. When was the last time you saw an Android-powered tablet used in public? I have seen a Kindle Fire in use, but not much else.

The horses are on the track

The tablet market has become a two horse race, starring Apple and Amazon. It's important also to recognize this will in future become a three horse play, once Microsoft launches itself into the market with Windows 8-powered devices, which I think likely to pose a credible -- and differentiated -- alternative. Today, it's Apple's game to lose, but it isn't losing.

Take a look at new data from Good Technology, a manufacturer of device management products for corporations, including half the Fortune 100. (You can get this data in full in PDF right here):

-- iPad accounted for 96 percent of tablets and the iPhone for 53 percent of smartphones activated by over 2,000 companies in Q4.

-- Of the top ten devices activated in the last quarter, Apple's five iOS devices took the top five slots in this order: iPhone 4S (31 percent); iPhone 4; iPad 2; iPad; iPhone 3GS.

That Apple has grabbed hearts and minds in the BYOD enterprise is hugely significant. That traditionally conservative companies are opting for Apple means others attempting to enter the enterprise will need to work extremely hard to convince these markets they offer anything so credible.

[ABOVE: Can you take an iPad and utterly destroy it? Sadly, so far, Apple's enemies just need to watch this clip repeatedly and wish really, really, really hard.]

And then came number three

Apple's iPad 3 -- widely expected for release in March -- will drive Apple's marketshare in the tablet sector even higher. This will be preceded by the now traditional lull in Apple tablet sales while customers await the new model, with some additional expectation the iPad 2 will remain available at a reduced price. We'll see about that.

Meanwhile the traditional PC market is changing. Apple continues to make significant market share gains, with Mac sales growing rapidly.

If you deconstruct the marketshare figures you'll see sales of Windows-based PCs are on the skids. No one wants a PC anymore, people want a Mac, an iPad, or an iPhone. The move to embrace BYOD is boosting corporate productivity and growing Apple's presence in sectors it has never traditionally performed well in. (At least since the early '90's.)

The PC is dying

The PC is dying. No, not in a dramatic train wreck or a victim of a high-profile assassination, nor with an invasion of highly-skilled Ninjas. Not like that. The old model is simply fading away. Where Apple steps today, everyone else will follow. What do you think Windows 8 is an attempt to emulate.

Recent Gartner and IDC numbers confirm this philosophy. Note the words of Tom Reestman. He notes that Apple's Mac sales grew 20.7 percent while the PC industry as a whole shrank 5.9 percent. That doesn't sound too bad, until you recognize Mac sales are now propping up the entire industry. This is a very big, very unexpected and not at all anticipated deal.

  • Take Mac sales out of the frame and you see the PC industry shrank 8.5 percent.

Apple sold 2.074 million Macs, while 15.854 million PCs were sold. This gives Apple 11.6 percent marketshare. Don't forget, those PC sales also include low-powered devices, utilitarian boxes and computers intended for point-of-sale and other such low level use.

This makes it all the more remarkable Apple is selling one Mac for every seven PCs sold worldwide. And with Apple set to unleash new superpowered MacBook Air configurations pretty soon, that difference seems set to continue. Meanwhile the iPad is a credible alternative for so many traditional PC tasks.

There's no denying the facts. Apple's rubber-clad business plans are munching away the traditional PC market. And that's a really good thing as we need a diverse and heterogeneous computing ecosystem, if only to make things more secure.

The existence of the Wintel monopoly generated a security threat, as malware makers made millions of successful attempts to undermine Windows security. Personal computer users will therefore benefit from a more fragmented PC world. A world which also includes iPads, smartphones and other devices we've not even seen.

Security will be the big test this year, and given Windows remains the most well-targeted environment I can't help but think PC sales will continue to decline while those of Apple devices continue to climb.

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