Apple’s Mac business recently celebrated its 30th birthday. In an era where entire products, companies and platforms seldom last more than one decade, three is exceptionally impressive. And not only is the Mac alive, despite massive industry change — it just put in its second-best year ever, with 17.1 million shipments in 2013.
But 2013 also marked the second year in a row that Mac shipments didn’t increase, after a significant growth period last decade. Annual shipments peaked in 2011, shy of 18 million, and quarterly shipments peaked two years ago, with 5.2 million in the December 2011 period.
The real story, of course, is the growth of the iPad. Apple’s “computer” business, combining the Mac and iPad, just reported its best quarter ever, passing 30 million units for the first time ever.
But it’s still worth studying the Mac on its own. Have sales truly peaked for good? All signs point to yes: The declining PC industry, the gradual shift from desktops to notebooks to tablets, and the increasing longevity of Macs, requiring less-frequent replacement cycles. It seems more likely than not that we’ve seen the one and only 5+ million-Mac-shipments quarter in its history.
That said, there’s still some wiggle room. This past quarter’s 4.8 million Mac shipments marked a surprising growth acceleration, and was within 10% of the all-time record. A repeat, combined with some special circumstances — and perhaps a dramatically compelling new MacBook Air — could potentially set a new high-water mark.
Anyway, this is mostly an academic (and nostalgic) exercise — Apple’s future success and growth probably has nothing to do with the Mac, at least not directly. Apple has long graduated from being the Mac company, at least in sales and profits. All signs still point to a slow, steady — noble? — decline.