Mac Sales Up, iMac Sales Down? The Spin Doctor Is In

1999: You’ve gotta love the spin people put on things.

Apple Retail Sales More Than Double in April

5 iMac colorsThat was MacChat’s headline on May 20. Compared with total Macintosh sales in April 1998, Apple sold over twice as many units in April 1999.

But remember, April 1998 was pre-iMac, which wasn’t announced until May and wasn’t shipped until August.

Also, there were several alternatives to Apple product: Umax was still actively marketing their SuperMac line, while Motorola and Power Computing models were being liquidated at very competitive prices.

But MacChat puts the best possible spin on things: Apple more than doubled unit sales.

iMac Sales Slow in April

The same day, Cnet announced that the iMac had taken a beating in April. For only the second time since August, based on PC Data information, the iMac wasn’t among the Top Five models. The discontinued Bondi iMac was #7, while the colorful iMac 266 was #11. I don’t recall seeing how the new iMac 333 rated – nor any comment on the PowerBook G3 and Blue and White Power Mac G3.

All combined, the three iMac models should have made the Top Five.*

The only explanation Cnet could come up with was confusion as Apple ramped up a new model.

A more plausible explanation is the fire at the iMac factory in Mexico. This happened just two weeks after the iMac 333 was officially announced and undoubtedly constrained supplies for a while.

Retail PC Unit Sales Rise 21% in April

Then I read the Bloomberg article (no longer online, but we found another source with the same story). It noted that Apple was #3 in personal computer unit sales in April – despite the fact that the biggest segment of the Wintel market is now sub-$1K computers.

Yes, remarkably, with nothing but discontinued iMacs in the sub-$1K range, Apple managed the #3 spot overall.

In light of the “slow” iMac sales noted on Cnet, this is even more remarkable. That means the total of iMac, Power Mac, and PowerBook sales surpassed total sales of all but two other personal computer brands.

On top of that, in a month that saw about 21% more computer sales than the previous April, Apple had more than doubled its unit sales. (That’s from the MacChat article.)

On the whole, despite supposedly poor iMac sales, Apple did have a remarkable April 1999. But you never would have guessed it from the Cnet headline.

The Spin Doctor Is Out

By taking three separate articles based on the same sales data, comparing what they say, and removing some of the bias, we discovered the truth:

  • With three separate models being sold, the individual iMac models all fell from the Top Five.
  • Apple has really turned around in the last year, doubling unit sales over their pre-iMac days.
  • More users are choosing Apple computers than all but two other brands.
  • The Mac market is growing significantly faster than the general PC market.

After removing the spin, I think you can come to your own conclusions.

* After I fished writing this article, MacNN published an article, Combined, iMacs Reach No. 1 in April, claiming total iMac sales (all versions A-D and all colors, so 12 different SKUs) eclipsed those of any other model – based on the same PC Data figures. It has rankings for all iMac versions and also notes that the Blue and White G3/300 was #16 in overall sales.

Further Reading