The Fall and Rise of the Mac

Macintosh. In 1984, it was the computer "for the rest of us." In the early 1990s, it was the source of everything that was both good and bad about Apple Computer sans Steve Jobs. From there, it quickly devolved into proof that the open licensing model perpetuated by Microsoft and its Wintel hegemony was the superior business model.

When the prodigal son introduced iMac in 1998, the Mac became the symbol of Apple-with-Steve-Jobs's ability to play by different rules. No longer would Apple compete on price. Instead, style, elegance, and—most of all user experience became the Mac's selling point. The Wintel world laughed itself into a race to the bottom that eventually left Apple in total control over the direction of the PC industry.

And the digital music player industry.

And the music retail industry.

And the cell phone industry.

And the tablet industry.

And the mobile apps industry.

And now the wearable computing industry.

But what about the Mac? Long ago it was eclipsed by most of those other product categories in terms of revenues, and certainly in terms of perceived importance. The iPhone, in particular, is king of Apple today, driving revenues and profits.

Still, the Mac began to grow in the early 2000s. And grow. And grow. In fact, Apple has outgrown the PC industry for more than ten year. Early in that streak, Mac sales were boosted by the iPod and then iPhone ecosystems, but they were also helped by extraordinary industrial design, best-in-class battery performance, and industry-leading mobile displays.

Find more statistics at Statista

Apple sold 4.6 million Macs in the March quarter of 2015. That's a 10 percent increase compared to the year-ago quarter, while the the PC industry as a whole declined by 7 percent. Even more telling, Mac March quarter revenues eclipsed iPad revenues for the first time since 2011, as noted by my friend Peter Cohen.

That is a stupendous feat, but it's just another in a string of such stupendous feats. In the last four quarters, for instance, Apple has sold some 24.5 million Macs, making it more than a $25 billion a year business that competes exclusively at the high end of the market. That's the kind of business that many a multinational giant would, have, and do kill for.

Not bad for a platform written off by the haters again and again and again. And it's not bad for a mature market that most see in decline. Macintosh is an important part of Apple's empire that has increased its importance to both users and the company in recent years.

It's gotten to the point where seeing a fellow Mac users in a coffee shop, or even at work, has become commonplace. It's no longer special, and that is perhaps the biggest tribute one could make to the venerable Macintosh, and proof of its rise.

For everything we hear from Apple about living in a post-PC era—former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called it a PC-plus era—Macs have never been bigger, and they've never before generated so much money as they do today. It's even to the point where Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts on Monday that Macintosh was cannibalizing iPad sales.

Holy role reversal, Batman!

From Mac Pro to iMac 5K to MacBook Air, to MacBook Pro, to (Gold) MacBook, the Mac is a major powerhouse in the PC industry, and it drives significant revenues and profits for Apple. That may be a bit strange for long time Mac users who recall Michael Dell—remember him?—advising Apple to sell off its assets and return the money to shareholders, but it's the truth on the ground today.

Accordingly, long live the (resurgent) Mac.