Steve Ballmer: "Tides Have Turned" Against Apple & the Mac

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

The tides have turned against Apple in the computer market, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The comments from Mr. Ballmer came at the McGraw-Hill Companies’ 2009 Media Summit in response to an interview question about the momentum Apple is perceived to have.

According to TechFlash, Mr. Ballmer responded, "Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction. The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be."

Mr. Ballmer is asserting, in other words, that the only difference between a Mac running Mac OS X and a PC running some variant of Windows is a price difference of US$500 and the Apple logo. Such might be expected from Big Redmond's CEO, who also made a point of showing that his family owned no Apple products when asked if there was perhaps a secret iPod in his life.

"No, none. I don't, my sons don't, my wife doesn't. You're talking to a guy, though, whose dad worked for Ford, and once Ford sold Land Rover and Jaguar, we're selling the cars to get Fords, so you may have a weird outlier in me."

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates's wife, Melinda Gates, made similar comments recently, when she told Vogue magazine that her kids were not allowed to have iPods or iPhones, though she admitted she "wouldn't mind having an iPhone" for herself.

Apple has been gaining significant market share for the last several years for its Mac platform, more than the 1% Mr. Ballmer mentioned in the U.S. market, but approximately 1% in the global market. The company celebrated several record quarters in 2008, with growth in Mac sales higher than the growth in the market (note that the December quarter showed a mix of contraction and growth in the PC market).

For Apple, the company's growth slowed in the December quarter, but Mac sales still grew year over year. That, it would seem, is the foundation of Mr. Ballmer's remarks, but it remains to be seen if his cheer-leading conclusion is accurate.

Apple will announce March quarter sales in April, third party firms such as NPD and Gartner will be adding additional color to February and March in the coming weeks, as well.

As for Microsoft, the company recently laid off 5,000 employees. There was a hot item about Apple laying off 50 employees in one aspect of its Enterprise sales team, but then there's the caveat that those responsibilities were outsourced to third party retailers. Oh, and how at least one group in Enterprise at Apple is actually adding headcount.