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The Mac's market share is not 7.57 percent, sorry

I love the way the Mac enthusiast world works: It's a fantasy land where only positive news is acceptable, and the more fanciful the better. The most obvious example is market share, where Apple has done a commendable job over the past few years of inching higher and higher against an entrenched PC market. But that's not good enough for the Apple freaks, obviously. Instead, they need to believe that the Mac's market share is twice what it really is. What's humorous about this, of course, is that the same people who wonder why I focus on market share so much (Answer: You can actually measure it, so it's interesting) are the same who will tout baloney market share statistics themselves.

Anyway. As I demonstrated recently, the Mac's market share in Q4 2007 was 3.1 percent. For all of 2007, it was 2.9 percent. These represent real world improvements year over year, as you'd expect, given Apple's recent sales successes: In 2006, the Mac controlled 2.4 percent of the market. In 2005, it was 2.3 percent. It's hard to grow more quickly than that, as I've explained again and again on my previous Nexus blog. But they are growing. No doubt about it.

And then there's baloney like this: Net Applications, which measures people browsing the Web online, claims that Apple's Mac had 7.57 percent market share in January 2008. And needless to say, the Mac fanatics (you know, the real freaks) jumped all over this number. After all, 7.57 is way higher than 3.1. Way higher. It must be true. (Oddly, these guys never reported my own more realistic numbers, which are based on actual PC sales. Huh.)

But what is Net Applications measuring exactly? Could they possibly be measuring "market share"--which, by the way, is defined as unit sales in a given period, typically quarterly or yearly? No, they're measuring usage share. This is the percentage of people actually using a particular product in a given time period. It's much harder to measure in some markets (PCs) and much easier to measure in others (Web browsers) for reasons that I hope are obvious. Net Applications is not measuring market share, though they use language that insists they are: "This report lists the market share of the top operating systems in use for browsing," the company writes. In other words, they're measuring usage share. You can't obtain sales data by parsing Web site hits. You can, however, measure usage share. For browsers.

Another question one might logically ask is, "where are these users coming from?" While we know, for example, that Apple's market share is higher in rich countries like the United States, it's much lower elsewhere, which explains why their overall market share--i.e. "worldwide market share"--is much lower than it is, say, in the US. (My guess is that Apple's US market share is about double their worldwide figure, but there's no way to accurately measure that because Apple doesn't release US-only sales figures.) Net Applications has a "Geo Filter" tool that lets you specify by-country statistics, but it costs $99 a month. Anyone care to guess how close the US figures are to the worldwide figures?

In short, the Mac does not have 7.57 percent market share, sorry. But that's because I'm being realistic and not seeing the world through Apple-colored glasses. The realistic view is that Apple is doing absolutely wonderfully in the PC market and growing year over a year at a rate that greatly surpasses most (all?) PC companies. As long as they do this, they will continue to grow their market share. Maybe they'll even hit 7.57 percent some day. The funny thing is, I hope they do: A strong Apple is the best thing that could ever happen to the PC market.

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