Then came the fall
With a strong showing in 2012, the popularity of Apple's Mac appeared set to increase. New product announcements combined with the company's most recent financial results, however, shed some doubt on that proposition.
But then, after selling more than 18.1 million Macs in 2012, Apple sold just 16.3 million during its 2013 financial year—a decline of nearly 10 percent year over year.
It'll be interesting to see what will happen to those numbers in the new fiscal year. The company is set to introduce the new Mac Pro—the first refresh of that product line in years. Its three other product lines (MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac) have seen only incremental improvements in the past year or two; they're all poised for a more dramatic overhaul. The lack of truly new Macs in 2013 could be all that's needed to explain the decline in sales.
But there could be other reasons for that decline, reasons that could spell a darker future for the Mac.
For one thing, Apple appears to be working harder than ever to make good on Steve Jobs's prediction that PCs will become tools only for the "truck" drivers among us. The recently released iPad Air, which is 20 percent thinner and 28 percent lighter than the previous model, has a desktop-class A7 processor that is powerful enough to outperform 2010-era MacBook Air devices in benchmark tests.
In fact, the Air even outclasses some iMacs from around 2008 to 2009, says John Poole, founder of Primate Labs, the company behind the Geekbench processor benchmarking software. Results for the Air recently started popping up on Geekbench Browser, a publicly available database of user-contributed Geekbench results. "Now that we're getting closer to desktop performance [with the iPad Air]," Poole said. "The baseline is slowly moving up and I think there will be a whole new class of apps and things you can do that weren't possible before."
The iPad Air's portability, combined with its upgraded processing power, could mean a more viable replacement for many current laptop users than previous iPads.
The company also introduced a new version of iWork that strips many power-user features from the OS X version to create a productivity suite that works equally well across Macs and iOS devices. In the face of user outcry, the company promised to reinstate some of the missing features in future versions. But the unification of the laptop and tablet experience seems to be inevitable. Instead of catering to the Mac, Apple appears focused on creating platform parity, so users can be as productive on an iPad as they are on the Mac.
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