FORTUNE -- Needham's Charlie Wolf has been following Apple (AAPL) long enough to still care what's happening to the Mac,* and on Tuesday he took a crack at explaining why the company's most venerable product line (it turns 30 in January) seems to have, as he puts it, "fallen back to earth."
Beginning in 2005, and for 26 quarters in a row, Mac sales outgrew the industry -- nearly coinciding with a 7.5-year stretch in which Apple's share of the worldwide PC market increased from 2.1% to 5.3% (152%) and its revenue share rose from 3.2% to 11.9% (272%).
That streak ended abruptly in January, when Apple couldn't deliver the newest iMacs in sufficient quantities to meet demand. Mac sales fell 22.1% in a quarter in which the broader market fell 6.6%.
Wolf is less concerned with that one-time event -- which Tim Cook admitted was a screw-up and which appears in the attached chart as a sharp V at calendar Q4 2012 -- as he is with what happened for several quarters before and after.
The Mac is still outpacing the industry, but just barely and only because its sales are falling more slowly than everybody else's.
Why PC sales growth has collapsed is no mystery. The market is largely saturated and most of the money for new purchases is being funneled into smartphones and tablets.
Harder to explain is why the Mac, which used to outgrow the industry by 20% to 30%, is now shrinking at nearly the same rate.
Wolf confesses that he has no "ready explanation," but he does offer a couple of theories:
*For the record, the Mac generated $21.5 billion in revenue for Apple in fiscal 2013, 13% of the company's total sales and more than the total revenue of 368 of the companies in the Fortune 500.
According to Asymco's Horace Dediu, whom Wolf quotes, the Mac's share of PC profits was 45% in March, almost equal to the profit share of all Windows PC companies combined.
Windows guru Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has all but abandoned the Microsoft ecosystem.
FORTUNE -- "After more than two decades of being a dedicated Windows power user, and having invested tens of thousands of hours into mastering the platform, and run versions spanning from 3.0 to 8.1, I've now all but given up on Windows."
Those are words Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, a Microsoft (MSFT) Windows and Visual Basic guru with several how-to books and countless MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 13, 2013 11:35 AM ET
The analysts' estimates range from 3.6 million to 5 million. Average: 4.26 million.
FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) Mac sales haven't been hurt as much as Windows PC's have by the rise of tablets and smartphones. But Mac shipments peaked in late 2011, and the best Apple can probably hope for now is that they hold up better than everybody else's.
The analysts we polled in advance of Monday's fiscal fourth quarter earning report MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 26, 2013 10:31 AM ET
Both Gartner and IDC show summer Mac sales down as tablets replace PCs in schools.
FORTUNE -- An Apple (AAPL) summer tradition -- strong back-to-school sales of the Mac -- finally got broken by the same disruption that has been draining growth out of the entire PC industry: The booming tablet market that Apple created when it launched the iPad in 2010.
Gartner and IDC released their third quarter PC shipment reports MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 10, 2013 7:33 AM ET
In North America, 77% carry iPhones and 57% own Macs.
FORTUNE -- There were several surprises in Katy Huberty's summary Friday of a survey of 530 Morgan Stanley summer analysts and associates in North America (NA), Asia Pacific (APAC) and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
First, who knew that Morgan Stanley hired so many summer interns?
And who knew that they were so devoted to Apple's (AAPL) products?
Huberty doesn't make a MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 23, 2013 6:22 AM ET
In the context of the industry's longest slowdown, the numbers could have been worse.
FORTUNE -- According to Gartner, worldwide PC shipments fell 10.9% last quarter, the industry's fifth consecutive quarter of decline. According to IDC, shipments are down 11.4% year over year, capping the industry's longest slowdown ever.
The main thing that's hurting PC sales, both research firms agree, is that customers who used to buy PCs are buying tablet computers instead.
In MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jul 12, 2013 6:48 AM ET
In a dismal quarter for PC sales, is Apple's Mac a rare bright spot, or isn't it?
FORTUNE -- The two leading high tech market research firms have done it again.
They issued their preliminary PC sales estimates for the first calendar quarter of 2013 Wednesday, and while they agree that it represented either the worst quarterly decline on record (IDC) or the worst in a generation (Gartner) -- thanks in large part to the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 11, 2013 6:39 AM ET
Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster says growth may not return until the back half of 2013
FORTUNE -- In February, Gene Munster predicted that Apple (AAPL) would get a boost this quarter from product announcements in March or April.
With March almost over and the quarter ending on Saturday, Piper Jaffray's senior Apple analyst issued a note to clients Tuesday warning that the company will have to get through a dry patch before MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 26, 2013 6:43 AM ET
Ranking the best and worst Apple analysts for fiscal Q1 2013
FORTUNE (Koh Ngai, Thailand) -- As evidenced by Apple's (AAPL) sickening $55.5 (10.8%) drop in after-hour trading Wednesday, the analysts who cover the company -- both on and off Wall Street -- aren't doing it any favors.
The company didn't have a bad quarter. In fact, it posted its best quarter ever with earnings per share of $13.81 on sales of MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 23, 2013 8:16 PM ET
The analysts' forecasts range from 4.45 million to 6.5 million. Median estimate: 5.2 million
FORTUNE (Vientiane, Laos) -- At first glance, the chart at right looks pretty dismal. It suggests that Wall Street expects Christmas quarter sales of the Mac to grow less year over year than any year in memory, and that our sample of independent analysts -- generally more bullish than the professionals -- expect year over year unit MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 12, 2013 6:27 PM ET
|Stocks falter as budget deal raises taper risk|
|Teen millionaire helping Yahoo become cool again|
|Obamacare: 365,000 have signed up for insurance on exchanges|
|What the budget deal doesn't do|
|"The Hobbit" dispute sparks lawsuit|