Is Apple Wasting Its Time on Macs?

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Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) is still on top, and gaining. Dell (NYS: DELL) is slipping. Apple (NAS: AAPL) is still a darling, with a pair of asterisks that I'll get to shortly.

That's the gist of industry tracker Gartner's latest quarterly read of PC sales in this country.

The picture itself isn't pretty. Gartner estimates that 15.5 million PCs shipped during the quarter, a 3.5% decline from the first three months of last year. Globally the snapshot isn't as problematic. Worldwide PC shipments posted a 1.9% year-over-year gain.


However, let's take a closer look at the market share changes over the past year in this country.

 2012 Q1 Market Share2011 Q1 Market ShareUnit Growth
HP29.0%26.2%6.6%
Dell22.3%22.3%(3.6%)
Apple10.6%9.8%3.8%
Acer9.1%11.9%(25.9%)
Toshiba8.7%10.4%(19.2%)

Source: Gartner

The first of Apple's asterisks is that HP actually posted stronger year-over-year growth than Apple. This bodes well for HP heading into its upcoming quarterly report. Naturally, this doesn't look good for Apple ahead of its report later this month, but just remember that Macs are no longer a material driver for the Cupertino titan. IPad and iPhone sales made up 72% of its holiday quarter revenue, with Macs accounting for a thin 14% slice of the revenue mix.

The second asterisk is one that you won't see from this table. We have to dig up Gartner's data from January to show market share data for the fourth calendar quarter. Apple had a chunky 11.6% of the U.S. market during the period. It's now down to 10.6%.

There's a good reason for this. Apple is a consumer-facing beast. Of course it's going to have a robust holiday quarter. Why wouldn't the company stand out against its corporate-facing rivals with smoother seasonality? It's Christmas!

Well, there's a problem. If we go back a year, Apple went from a 9% share of the market during the 2010 holiday quarter to 9.8% during the first three months last year. There was sequential improvement then. Why isn't it happening now?

Thinking outside of the box
Apple's present -- and undeniably its near-term future -- is more about iOS than Mac OS. Isn't it better if Apple simply focuses on those platforms and nixes its Macs and MacBooks?

Before you answer, consider that after a decade of the "halo effect" of the mass market appeal of the iPod, Apple is still eyeing just 10% of the PC market domestically, and roughly half that on a worldwide basis. Why keep cranking out costly computers that may not be as flattering to the Apple brand as its more pocket-able products?

So should Apple do it? Should Tim Cook kill that Mac?

Are you insane?

I was only testing you. I didn't think you'd actually whip out the dagger. It doesn't matter if Macs are a small part of Apple's growth strategy these days. Walking into an Apple Store stocking only iOS gadgetry wouldn't feel the same. Macs fall somewhere between historical landmarks and sacred artifacts.

Even if just 10.6% of the country is buying Mac desktops and portables, the last thing that Apple would want to do is upset the folks owning the true calling card of diehard Apple fans.

Besides, Apple's market share has come a long way. Just eight years ago, Apple was looking at a 3% sliver of the stateside market and less than 2% of the worldwide base.

Life after the Mac
Maybe the Mac in particular and the PC in general are peaking. The "good enough" computing revolution that Apple started with the success of its iPhone and iPad continues to victimize traditional PC dekstops and laptops, at least in this country.

However, even if that thesis continues to play out, Apple has better things to do than pry MacBooks from a fanboy's cold, dead fingers. Letting the long tail for PCs play out makes far more sense than putting all of its eggs in the iOS basket.

If you haven't read about thetwo wordsthat are giving Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer fits, it's a free report so you as may wellcheck it out now.

At the time this article was published Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended writing covered calls on Dell.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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