Mac sales keep kicking ass; how does Apple sustain the momentum?

Apple's Mac sales kicked all sorts of ass last quarter. Apple moved 5.52 million Macs last quarter, generating more than $6.6 billion in revenue. So where does Apple go from here?

In Monday's conference call with analysts, Tim Cook talked about the "absolutely blow away quarter" for Mac sales. "Back to School season voted and the Mac won, and carried the day," he said.

"It's clear that all the work we've put into our notebooks on the hardware and software side is resonating with customers," Cook said, adding that if you go onto college campuses, you'll see a lot of students walking around with Mac notebooks.

By units, Apple saw a fourth quarter jump of 21 percent compared to a year ago. And revenue growth for the quarter was up 18 percent year over year. Sequential numbers were great, too.

"Being up 21 percent in a market that's shrinking, it doesn't get better than that," said Cook.

As far as most consumers and volume-purchasing institutions are concerned, laptops are still where it's at.

As the rest of PC market collapses in on itself, Apple has continued to see strong Mac sales — in 33 of the last 34 quarters, Mac sales have outpaced the rest of the PC industry. Slowly but surely, Apple's been growing marketshare.

One of the data points that Apple underscored during its call this week was that Apple's Mac marketshare gives it the biggest percentage of the PC market it's had in almost twenty years: 1995 was the last time Apple's numbers were this good.

So where does Apple take it from here?

Apple continues to improve its desktop computers; it just updated its Mac mini for the first time in two years with a new line that resets the entry-level price back to $499, right where it was when the first Mac mini appeared in 2005.

Apple's also just introduced the stunning new 5K iMac, a Mac with screen resolution that's four times higher than other iMacs. It's got a lot of people talking about the iMac for the first time since 2012, when Apple made the iMac radically thinner and pulled its optical drive.

Improvements to its desktop Macs are welcome and Apple's shown that it can still innovate in this space, as evidenced by the 5K iMac. But as far as most consumers and volume-purchasing institutions are concerned, laptops are still where it's at. Apple has to continue making MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros that will appeal to customers old and new.

The MacBook Air is a really strong seller: Even though Apple didn't do too much to it this year outside of a minor speed improvement and a price realignment that bought price down $100, that was enough to spur a lot of people and some big school districts to buy the MacBook Air in big numbers.

I don't expect a radical reinvention of the MacBook Pro in 2015.

2015 promises a few changes on the CPU front that should enable Apple to roll new hardware out. Intel's Broadwell processors will finally be available in speeds and configurations for Apple to use in its laptops, perhaps even in the fabled Retina MacBook Air that many Mac enthusiasts have been waiting for.

Further out, Intel's readying another processor called Skylake, which is also due out in 2015, albeit in the second half of the year. Once Skylake is available, Apple will be able to incorporate features like Thunderbolt 3 into the Mac, which will finally give the Mac enough bandwidth to manage an external 5K display with a single cable.

Of course, the Mac isn't just about what processor is under the hood. What does Apple need to actually change to keep selling Macs?

Apple takes an iterative approach to product development; we're about two and a half years into the Retina MacBook Pro's product development cycle. Updates are surely coming, but I don't expect a radical reinvention of the MacBook Pro in 2015, just further refinements and improvements.

So the answer to that question may be "not a lot." Apple's Mac sales are improving by leaps and bounds in emerging markets like China, and that may be enough to sustain the Mac's growth for a while.

What's more, OS X Yosemite helps Apple define a powerful strategy for the Mac going forward: That one of the Mac's best assets may indeed be the iPhone. Handoff features should spur more existing Mac users with older Macs to consider upgrading to newer machines, and as word spreads, iPhone users who haven't used the Mac before are sure to consider it when it's time to get a new computer.

Are you looking forward to new Macs in 2015? What's on your buy list right now — a new 5K iMac? A new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Peter Cohen
  • Apple didn't update the Mini they ruined it by not including quad core and second drive bay.
  • Eh I'm more of a Microsoft guy but if it drives innovation and competitive prices then I'm happy. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why are you trolling on a Mac site, then?
  • I bought the new Mac Mini I dont care about the solid ram. I got the mid range one.
  • Nice machine! Let us know what you think once you've had it for a bit.
  • Will do
  • I pulled the trigger on a new Macbook Pro with Retina a few weeks ago. Loving it. I'd have like to wait for the Broadwell chips but needed it now. I think, though, that we're at the stage where software is where the action is. I received my first SMS on my Yosemite loaded Macbook today - just popped up, quick reply and done. Much more convenient than having to pull out my iPhone. Love it. What's coming next?!
  • Macs are kicking ass but Apple should be doing better as they are, after all, the big dog. Lenovo, Dell and Acer all grew even more than Apple did (Apple only outgained HP), so clearly the Mac has a lot of room for growth.
  • It's impressive if you consider Apple is premium. Those others aren't. The lowest priced laptop that Apple sells is still making Apple a great margin but still remains out of reach for many consumers.
  • Nope. Look at the Mac mini. And plenty of second-hand MacBooks and iMacs that are cheaper than the new line, but can handle just as well as the newest lines.
  • i have a mid 2014 retina macbook pro, and a non apple phone.. i am extremely looking forward to a new phone (and it will be an iphone6)
    so we can say that in my case the iphones allie was the macbook but i am totally with you, the new features of compatibility between the mac and iPhone and the prospect of that being even better with the apple watch sales will only gros for the next few quarters.
  • So glad to see the Mac doing well and iOS progressing as a compliment to OS X as part of a user's daily work flow...rather than an attempted replacement for OS X. Aside from a Retina MacBook Air, really not sure what else is left to do with the Mac aside from making Retina machines more affordable and iterative updates to improve thinness, weight, and performance.
  • This is why Apple has top quality engineers. They will find ways to make it better that we haven't even thought about. Sent from the iMore App
  • What's next?, Apple should build a city on the moon so all the rich and decadent could go there and vacation with all their money??, and than turn off the oxygen and kill them all!, FUNNY STUFF!!, come on wouldn't regular people love to see that? Sent from the iMore App
  • Whhaa? Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm strongly considering purchasing my first-ever Mac, which would be a new Mac Mini. I've not been a fan of Windows lately, and that $499 price point takes my risk as low as I could ever hope it to be: if I hate using a Mac I'm only out $500 minus what I can sell it for on eBay. The iMacs are certainly more appealing, but they're for people who are all-in; I'm just looking to get my feet wet and Apple is making that very tempting.
  • You're exactly the sort of customer Apple designed the Mac mini for!
  • Recommend getting a touch pad for it, it'll make the experience even better Sent from the iMore App
  • While I know it won't happen... I still want a black 15" MacBook Air. Please and thank you Apple. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple computers sure look nice, but ive used a pc my whole life and the idea of learning my way around a mac seems intimidating. Sent from the iMore App
  • I know Apple discontinued their 17" Macbook Pros, which is a shame, since what I'd really like is a 17" Retina MBP (with at least 3 usb3 ports) Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I agree, but apparently only between 1 and 2% of all MacBooks sold were 17". My wife still has one, taking it everywhere (it's great working on the train). She couldn't be happier.
  • It's all about word-of-mouth. Advertising can only buy you so much attention. I have long been familiar with Macs since their Haswell days, and after the umpteenth blue-screen-of-death on Windows 8.1 on my cheap-ass notebook (I'm nerdy; I like to tinker with my toys), I had the local Best Buy discard it, and a few weeks later finally bought my first personal MacBook. I knew their products were always solid, and until I can master Linux and UNIX, it's the best alternative to what the masses still usually use ;)
  • I just ordered an iMac 5K though I would have preferred a gamut of 99% AdobeRGB plus 31 or 32 inches of real estate, but it seems to me that Display Port 1.3 is the thing to wait for and that will presumably take another year. Yet, with my Cinema Display dying (it keeps going black) and an early 2008 Mac Pro (which cannot drive 4K or 5K displays), I had no choice but to look for a replacement. The iMac 5K is - for photographic work - a compromise, but I hope a workable one. I'm looking forward to having 15 mio. pixels at my disposal, considering that today's DSLR offer between 16 and 36 mio. pixels. I wonder how the faster version of the iMac 5K will handle 36 MB RAW files in Lightroom.