And increasingly, those still buying personal computers see them as an investment because they know that they'll keep them longer, and are thus willing to pay more to get more. There the Mac has an advantage, not only because of the free operating system upgrades, but also because of the machines' top-of-the-line construction quality. "Looking at these devices as investments strengthens the case for a Mac," Bajarin said.
The Mac ASP, or 'average selling price,' fell to $1,230 in the third quarter, $114 lower than a year ago. (Data: Apple.)
In the third quarter, Macs accounted for about 6% of all personal computer shipments if IDC's 81.6 million global estimate was accurate. In some countries, like the U.S., the Mac's share was double that, or 12%.
"If Apple can increase its share to 20%, gaining share at the expense of other PCs, it would mean 15 million [in unit shipments] a quarter," said Bajarin. That would put it at the top of the world's personal computer sellers.
Revenue from a share increase of that magnitude — over $15 billion a quarter — would rival that of the iPhone, Apple's biggest money maker.
"The Mac could tell an interesting growth story at a time where the trend of the PC is down," said Bajarin.
Apple sees the opportunity, he said, ticking off the company's shift to lower prices even as component costs climb, as they undoubtedly did for the newest MacBook Pro models, which dropped 9% to 13% in price even as they added the more expensive Intel Core processor known as "Haswell."
"I think they're deeply aware, and they know that there is this opportunity," said Bajarin, who speculated that the long game — a year, perhaps two — could play to Apple's advantage.
In addition, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, has recently rejected the idea that Apple is downplaying the Mac, and instead has reaffirmed the company's commitment to personal computers.
"Our competition is different. They're confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make tablets into PCs, and PCs into tablets," Cook said last week before Apple unveiled new iPads and refreshed Mac notebooks. "[But] we have a very clear direction and a very ambitious goal. We still believe deeply in this category [of traditional notebooks] and we're not slowing down on our innovation."
To further its ambitions, Apple may refuse to do what many have predicted: Add a Retina-quality display to its lower-priced MacBook Air ultra-light notebooks. Instead, Bajarin theorized, Apple could keep the Air as a lower-resolution laptop to save costs.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.