Apple Cult: The Cult of Unpopular Gadgets?

Does Enthusiasm Towards Apple Have Ground?

by Anton Shilov
07/09/2009 | 12:38 PM

In the last few weeks numerous technology and mass media web-sites published hundreds of stories about Apple, its products, their availability or their issues. But does that enthusiasm towards the company have any correlation with Apple’s actual market share? It seems that not really.


Apple is a company that has been extensively covered by media, especially in the USA, for many years now without an obvious reason: apart from the iPod, all the products from Apple are hardly used by a lot of people around the globe. But the latest load of rush coverage about Apple on the Internet more resembles hysteria rather than a normal exposure of a popular topic.

The most recent wave of wide-ranging coverage of Apple began with the pending release of the iPhone 3GS: almost all the tech web-sites published rumoured specifications of the device, some were correct, some were wrong. Then, after the 3GS was finally launched and the press released a load of ecstatic articles on the matter despite of the fact that nobody has tried to use the device, the media rejoiced over the return of Steve Jobs, chief exec of Apple, to his position at the company. Virtually all tech and mass media web-sites decided to inform their readers that Mr. Jobs had liver transplant in April and was back in the office on time.

After the state of Mr. Jobs’ health was discussed completely, the press found numerous new topics to talk about: availability of iPhone 3GS, overheating of iPhone and iPod devices, the future of relationship between Apple and Nvidia, demand towards certain Macbook notebooks, the number of applications available for sale in Apple’s store, installation of cameras on next-gen iPod players, unlocking iPhone 3GS (some went as far as advising business users to hack iPhones and use them for business purposes) and numerous other topics.

But does the media coverage correlate to actual usage of Apple’s products? Or is it just a cult inside the heads of a certain group of people? Let’s see the numbers!

Apple Macintosh: 3.33% Global PC Market Share

According to Apple itself, it sold around 9.92 million of Apple Macintosh computers in calendar 2008 across the world. According to IDC market tracking company, worldwide PC shipments totaled 297.24 million units in 2008. Therefore, Apple supplied no more than 3.33% of personal computers last year, definitely not a significant number.

Some may argue that Apple is very popular in the U.S., which is why the enthusiasm towards Macs in the country is so high. Well, if truth be told, Apple was the fourth largest PC vendor in the USA in 2008; but it only had 7.7% market share and is behind Dell (29.5%), HP (24.9%) and Acer (9.1%).

It does not look like the Macintosh systems are truly popular globally. Moreover, they have a number of drawbacks too: notebook batteries that cannot be replaced, rather controversial keyboards, incompatibility with the vast majority of video games, insufficient amount of ports on some Macbook notebooks, inability to configure them in accordance with personal needs before purchase, etc. So, Macs are neither the best, nor the most popular on the market.

Apple iPhone: 1% Global Cell Phone Market Share

Apple iPhone is among the most demanded tech gadgets of our time along with Nintendo Wii and Apple iPod. Nevertheless, its actual popularity seems to be greatly exaggerated. Its actual market share is very low and that points to the fact that iPhone cannot suit everyone, either because of the functionality or because of usability or because of the price.

Apple itself said that it sold 13.675 million of iPhones in 2008. According to Gartner market research firm, Apple’s sold-through figures for the iPhone series were considerably lower: 11.4175 million units.

Total mobile phone sales reached 1.22224 billion units in 2008, claims Gartner. Therefore, depending on whose sales numbers to consider real, Apple’s cell phone market share is either 0.934% or 1.118%.

Since Apple iPhone is a smartphone, it makes sense to consider its potential on that market too. Gartner claims that Apple had rather high market share of 8.2%: of 139.287 million smartphones sold in 2008, 11.417 million were Apple iPhone or iPhone 3G. Still, 8.2% market share means that 91.8% of end-users around the globe preferred non-Apple mobile phones. Indeed, 43.7% acquired Nokia smartphone, 16.6% bought Research in Motion’s Blackberry. Many other preferred phones from companies like HTC (4.2%, Gartner only lists HTC’s own-brand devices under its name and considers HTC-made phones sold under operators’ brands separately) or Sharp (3.8%).

Perhaps, it is Mac OS operating system that attracts attention to the iPhone? Well, based on the research from Gartner, Apple’s Mac OS X with its 8.2% market share is considerably behind Symbian (52.4%), RIM Blackberry (16.6%) and Microsoft Windows Mobile (11.8%). In fact, Linux-based phones rival Mac OS X with 8.1% market share.

Maybe Apple iPhone is the best (smart)phone on the market right now? Well, it may be rather trendy, but there are devices like Nokia 8800-series that are, subjectively, more stylish and that attract much more attention. Apple iPhone also does not have long battery life: almost any business-oriented (smart)phone is a far cry from the iPhone when it comes to battery life. Moreover, maximum operating temperature of 35°C limitation practically cuts off the iPhone from hot countries and from people who travel to those destinations. Obviously, it is more comfortable to surf the Internet or watch videos on iPhone than on other (smart)phones thanks to large screen, but these are basically the only clear advantages the iPhone series has over rivals.

Apple iPod: Walkman of Our Days

The actual popularity of Macintosh computers and iPhone cell phones is clearly low. But Apple iPod family is definitely the Walkman of our time.

In calendar 2008 Apple sold 55.434 million iPod music players. Sales of iPhones are not driven by product launches: in Q1, Q2 and Q3 the company sold roughly 11 million devices per quarter, whereas in Q4 the number doubled to 22.727 million, probably because a lot of people acquired iPods as gifts for Christmas or New Year.

Unfortunately, there are no credible reports concerning the global market of portable digital media players (PDMP), hence, it is hard to estimate the actual market share of Apple iPod. Still, according to predictions from iSuppli back in 2007, total available market for PDMP would total about 240 million units in 2008. Therefore, Apple probably commanded about 23% of the PDMP market last year, a very high figure that may mean that the iPod is the most popular personal digital media player in the world.

The popularity does not automatically mean that those players are much better than the rivals: they are tied to iTunes software, their batteries cannot be replaced and some customers complain about firmware-related problems. Nevertheless, the iPod ignited the Apple cult in the computer and consumer electronics world.

Apple TV, Apple Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme, Xserve: Gadgets Not from the Cult

Obviously, Macintosh, iPod and iPhone are not the only products offered by Apple. The company also offers TV set-top-box, external hard disk drive, a router and even a server! However, popularity of those products is rather low, which can be explained easily: they are not a part of the cult and do not have a chance to become as popular as the “headline devices”.

The Apple cult supposes devices that one can show in public to attract attention (Macbook, iPhone, iMac) or be like the others (iPod). Meanwhile, set-top-boxes, servers or external storage devices are not supposed to be demonstrated publicly since they are just made to provide certain functionality and not meant to be eye-candy. In fact, the lack of popularity of Mac Pro and Mac mini desktops points to the same conclusion since neither of those desktops are supposed to catch anyone’s attention.

The Passion, or a Simulation of a Cult?

To sum up, the only Apple product that seems to be truly popular on the market remains iPod. Of course, sales of iPhones, Macintosh systems and other products contribute to Apple’s revenue and profitability. But while they may be admired and discussed in the press, but they are rather rarely bought, as it can be seen in various market researches.

So, when it comes to the extensive coverage of Apple on the Internet, is it a passion for unpopular gadgets, or is it a type of a simulated cult created by rather vocal PR specialists, end-users and journalists?