Sales are good

Cumulative sales for Apple products asymco

Source: Apple sold more iOS devices in 2011 than all the Macs it sold in 28 years | asymco.

Nice work, as usual, by Horace Dediu. There’s very little to comment on the data itself — it’s quite self-explanatory. This is undoubtedly one of those graphs with a great ‘whoa’ factor. Apple sold many more iPhones in five years than Macs in 28 years. But once the immediate ‘whoa’ factor wears off, I wonder: is this really that surprising? And also: Macs, iPads and iPhones/iPods are three very different categories; should they be compared against one another?

I remember a while ago how people were afraid that Apple could abandon the Mac platform because of the huge success of iOS devices, and I also remember how all these people were surprised that Apple could sell so many more iPhones than Macs. But, I thought, isn’t it rather obvious? Of course Apple sells more phones than computers. These are different devices with different uses and different prices, aimed at (slightly) different markets. 

Imagine a company into the office furniture business, specifically desks and chairs. Beautifully crafted wooden desks and chairs. First they serve a rather niche market, then the business gets more profitable as word is spread about the quality of their products. Then one day they start producing pencils and small drawing tools. Then after a while you examine the sales of desks, chairs and pencils. Of course pencil sales are going to be way higher than desk sales. A pencil is versatile, portable, more affordable you buy more than one, you change pencil after a while. A desk is comparatively more difficult to place. But is it reasonable to compare their respective sales as if they were two competing products? I don’t think so.

My example is a little extreme, I know, but I hope it helps to illustrate my point. When looking at that graph, one is tempted to conclude that, since almost 200 million iPhones were sold in 5 years and roughly 120 million Macs were sold in 28 years, therefore the iPhone is a more successful product than the Mac. They are, however, products with different stories, born under very different circumstances and in very different computing eras. We should look at that graph as a breakdown of a compounded success, where each ingredient is not ‘competing’ against the other, especially considering that Mac sales help iOS sales and vice-versa.

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