Recession-weary consumers and Apple played another game of chicken last month, and once again consumers didn't budge and Apple swerved off the road. Mac sales fell 16 percent year over year in February, according to research firm The NPD Group.
The Mac sales drops in February were a 10 percent decrease from the month before. Sales of Windows PCs, however, increased 22 percent in February year over year, helped along by surging sales of lightweight, inexpensive netbooks, according to NPD.
At this point, I'm going to stop asking when Apple will acknowledge these dark days we live in because I think the answer is never. Maybe Apple should just be a bull market company. When times are lean, it should pack up like a traveling carnival or disappear like a baseball team in winter and not come back until everybody's rich and happy again.
Last month, I wrote that Mac sales decreases by no means liberate Windows from the deeply troubled PC market. That, of course, still stands and will for awhile. Research firm Gartner has forecasted that worldwide PC unit sales in 2009 will decline to historic lows. So Mac or PC, it's going to cloudy for the long haul. It's just a little less cloudy on the PC side of the street.
It didn't help that Apple had little new to offer in February. Its new US$2,800 17-inch MacBook Pro didn't ship until mid-month and updates to the Mac Pro desktop, Mac Mini and iMac were not announced until early March.
It's hard to say how much of the sales numbers are solely a result of frugal consumers buying cheaper PCs or whether Microsoft's "Windows. Life Without Walls" ad campaign has actually paid off. Either way, Microsoft's ad agency must be happy today.
Obviously, much of this comes down to consumer spending. Those people struggling with the Mac or PC choice are now going with the PC, and those feisty little netbooks are increasing Windows sales even as they force laptop prices down.
But I also have to give kudos to Microsoft's well-timed TV ads, which I think are helping consumers feel more comfortable buying a PC. Showing cute little kids learning and having fun with Windows software in frequent national TV spots made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside (C'mon, admit it).
Microsoft is not known for connecting emotionally (with anyone or anything) but the "Life Without Walls" ads with Kylie, Alexa and Adam, as well as the original "I'm a PC" ads from last fall, made a connection. They evoke family love, creativity, connecting with the world and remembering the good things in life. Smart kids using computers to be creative is a good thing.
In any case, Mac revenue has pretty much plummeted from when it was breaking revenue records in the last three months of 2008. In October, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that Apple's customers are more likely to postpone their purchases instead of going for a cheaper alternative.
The way the economy looks, they could be postponing for the rest of the year, and much like "selling the condo" and "dining at a five-star restaurant", "buying a Mac" has become something to do after the recession.
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