For many years, Apple’s Mac has had a solid run in customers buying computers from Apple. In the last year, Apple has continued to sell over 5 million units per quarter. On the other hand, Windows PC sales dominated pretty much the rest of the market. In the last quarter, according to Gartner, Lenovo sold 18,310 million units, HP sold 15.446 units, and Dell sold 10.827 million PCs. Thanks to demand during the pandemic, Apple sold 5.513 million Macs in Q3, up 7.3% over the same quarter in 2019.
While the Mac has never been a major threat to the big PC makers to date, they still watch Apple closely, especially for any innovations Apple may add to the Mac that might impact the market and, ultimately, their future designs.
But when Apple announced that they have moved on from Intel’s CPU’s to their own, the PC makers have become even more interested in Apple being a potential threat to their PC dominancy.
The biggest reason is that Apple now controls its processor destiny as well as its cost, to a degree. Conservative estimates for a Core i7 processor from Intel cost as much as $80-$90+ per chip. That, along with Apple’s premium pricing model, always kept the Macs well over the same laptop’s price from computers in the Windows camp using the same processor.
For Windows laptop makers, their sweet spot for most of their profits come from making laptops in the $599-$899 range. While they all make Chromebooks priced mostly under $400, margins are slim to none. That is why most of them try to pack as much technology as possible into their laptops in their sweet spot range and market them aggressively. Of course, they all sell even more expensive laptops, but most of the profits and volume come from products in the $599-$899 range.
Apple recently announced a MacBook Air with 256 gigs of storage for $899, the only MacBook to even touch the high end of the Windows PC maker’s sweet spot. But this uses a low-end Intel Core i3 processor and has only eight gigs of memory. Dell sells at Latitude 3510 laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor and 500 gigs of storage for $899.
Apple has invested a great deal in their processor design. Their new A14 Bionic chip is expected to be on some of their laptops, perhaps before the end of the year. Apple has most likely already amortized some of the costs of their designs and using their processors, and they no longer pay the Intel tax.
This shift from Intel to Apple’s homegrown processor has some Windows laptop vendors more worried about Apple potentially threatening their core laptop business. The two price points they are the most worried about, should Apple decide to be more aggressive, is in the range of $799-$899 and using their most powerful A14 Bionic processor. Note this article from Ben Bajarin analyzing how a lower cost Mac entry point could dramatically increase the Macs PC market share.
There is a sense that should Apple offer a Mac in this power and price range; it could pressure their bottom lines. Apple has a great marketing machine, and they are showing more marketing focus on the Mac these days.
Suppose they make a lower cost/higher performance Mac that broaches on prime Windows laptop territory. In that case, it can impact all of the traditional Windows laptop vendors.
This issue is causing some of the PC forecasters to struggle with 2021 forecasts. Apple has not said when we would get our first Mac’s with an Apple homegrown processor, although there are rumors that Apple might hold another event in November to launch the first models.
A more likely scenario is that they launch A14 laptops in early Q1 and market them aggressively. If so, Apple could increase its Mac’s unit sales and potentially decrease some Windows PC sales in the near future.
I have had many discussion’s with Windows Laptop vendors over the years about Apple. These talks were always about Apple, not threatening their overall market position, especially in corporate markets.
Only in the last three months, since Apple announced they were leaving Intel and moving to their own silicon, have I heard a potential concern about Apple making a bid for what is their sweet spot.
Without knowing what Apple will bring to market with its chips and its pricing, it is hard to forecast Apple’s Mac growth at this time. However, their competition is rightly concerned about an Apple move in its direction and will be watching Apple closer than in the past.