Windows vs. Apple: An Accurate Measure?

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Alex Wilhelm wrote a fascinating and, I think, important article on Techcrunch yesterday (1/14/2014) where he argued that we need a different way of measuring the market share of Windows vs., say Apple products. He started by showing the following graph, which was created by Asymco and which is intended to show that Apple has caught up with or is very close to catching up with Windows in terms of units shipped and market share.

Apple v Windows
Credit: Horace Dediu, Asymco

Read Wilhelm’s entire article for the complete argument, but in short it goes something like this: comparing all of Apple’s products, from the iPod to the Mac, to only Windows PCs, misses a huge portion of the “Windows” market. And this is particularly onerous in my view, because included in that graph are a mix of iOS and OS X machines. A fairer comparison would look at OS X vs. Windows, and the conclusion would be that although the Mac has gained some market share, Windows PCs still dominate.

Toss in iOS devices, and of course the picture changes. But as Wilhelm points out, one should also include Windows Phone, Windows RT, and the Xbox, which are at just as much a part of a “Microsoft” ecosystem as iOS and OS X devices are part of an “Apple” ecosystem. Once you include everything, the numbers come out quite differently—perhaps Microsoft has lost a little of its dominance, but not nearly as much as the chart implies, and as Windows Phone and the Xbox continue to increase share, suddenly Window’s future isn’t quite so bleak.

This largely supports my position, I think, which is that Microsoft is going to do just fine in 2014 and beyond. Perhaps traditional Windows machines (i.e., notebooks and desktops) will continue to sell fewer and fewer units, but Windows tablets and hybrids, Windows Phone, and the Xbox will continue to grow and make up the difference. What we’ve always thought of as “Windows” may one day no longer dominate, but I think that’s only because our definition of what “Windows” really is will have changed.

I’ll not delve into the rest of Horace Dediu’s argument that Microsoft is losing because individuals are making more of the purchasing decisions instead of companies. There’s some merit there, but I wonder if the BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) trend will last, particularly with such a massive increase lately in security breaches—and much of Dediu’s argument seems to hinge on the continued growth of the BYOD movement. I can easily envision a time in the near future where companies lock things back down, simply because a single rogue device with insufficient security could compromise an entire enterprise’s network.

Also, as I’ve said numerous times, I remain convinced that Microsoft has a compelling value proposition, particularly as you include the wide range of device types that are or will soon be running essentially compatible versions of Windows. Imagine when you can buy an app that will run on a Windows notebook, a desktop, a tablet, a hybrid, a Windows Phone, and an Xbox One, and where continuing work on various devices is a seamless process. If Microsoft can pull it off, that’ll be some powerful stuff, and nobody else—neither Apple nor Google—can match it.

But yes, in the meantime, let’s make sure that we’re comparing Microsoft vs. Apple, not just Windows vs. Apple, because the latter misses a good part of the picture picture. Thanks to Alex Wilhelm for pointing that out.

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