Mac sales reach record high as unrelenting iPad slide continues

Apple sold more than 20 million Macs in the 2015 fiscal year, a first

Apple yesterday said it sold a record number of Macs in the September quarter, dealing out 5.7 million machines to customers worldwide.

With those sales, the Mac reached a major milestone for the first time -- sales of 20 million or more machines in an Apple fiscal year -- by logging a total of 20.6 million over the last four quarters.

Mac unit sales were up 3.4% from the same period the year before, when Apple sold a then-record 5.5 million systems. The September quarter was the eighth consecutive quarter of growth; the last time Mac sales shrunk was in 2013 at the end of a one-year downturn.

mac asp and sales volume Data: Apple

Mac sales reached a record high of 5.7 million in the September quarter, but the average selling price, or ASP, fell 4% to just over US$1,200.

Apple has been able to maintain Mac sales growth in the face of continued struggles by the PC industry overall: Researcher IDC recently pegged the business as down 11% for the September quarter, while rival Gartner tapped the contraction at 8%. Global personal computer shipments have contracted for 15 straight quarters, or nearly four full years, according to both IDC and Gartner.

Revenue from Mac sales reached almost US$6.9 billion, representing 13.4% of Apple's total of $51.5 billion, the largest slice for the almost-overlooked line in a year.

To put that amount in context, the revenue Apple booked from its Mac line alone last quarter was more than the entire company recorded in the third quarter of 2007, when the iPhone was just getting off the ground.

Apple pointed to sales of the relatively new MacBook -- introduced in March -- and the perennial bestseller, its MacBook Pro, as fueling the quarter. "Mac growth was driven by the great customer response to our new MacBook and sales of the MacBook Pro also remained strong," said Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri during the earnings call.

On average, the sales price of a Mac slipped slightly from the three quarters prior, to US$1,205, signaling that customers were going for less expensive models. The Mac's ASP, or average selling price, has held remarkably steady, however, at somewhere in the US$1,200-$1,300 range for years, a price point other computer makers, mired in razor-thin margins, would love to sell at.

Microsoft, for one, has played in the same premium part of the price pool with its Surface and Surface Pro tablets-notebooks. The Redmond, Wash., company re-emphasized that strategy last month when it introduced its first laptop, the Surface Book.

The Mac again out-earned the once-sexier iPad, and by a wider margin than before. With iPad unit sales down 19.8% and revenue off 19.6%, the tablet accounted for just 8.3% of Apple's total for the quarter, the smallest portion ever. The US$4.3 billion that Apple booked on iPad sales was the smallest amount since the first quarter of 2011, less than a year after the tablet's debut.

As before, Apple downplayed the seven-quarters-and-counting downturn. Maestri cited customer satisfaction data on the iPad, repeating comments he made in July at the last earnings call, while CEO Tim Cook touted the upcoming iPad Pro, but made no note of the continuing problems selling the smaller tablets now in the portfolio.

A gauge of the disinterest in the iPad on the part of Wall Street -- which has seemingly written off the tablet as a major contributor to revenue and profit -- was a lack of questions about the falling sales. That drew out Cook, who said, "Nobody is asking about iPad on the call" while he trumpeted data about the tablet in the Chinese market.

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