How long before Apple stops selling desktop Macintosh?

It's a reasonable question to ask, now that, after today, Apple will no longer sell Xserve rack-mount servers. Apple is a far different company in 2011 than it was when Xserve launched about nine years ago. Xserve's ending foreshadows another: The sun setting on immobile Macintosh. Desktop be gone.

During Apple's fiscal 2011 first quarter, iOS devices accounted for about two-thirds of revenue. In the same quarter six years earlier Macs accounted for 45 percent of Apple revenue. In Q1 2007: 34 percent. A year ago: 28 percent. Q1 2011: 20 percent. The Macintosh isn't as important to Apple's bottom line as it once was.

But the dead weight is more on the desktop. Apple sold nearly 2.4 times more portables than desktops during fiscal first quarter 2011 -- 2.9 million to 1.2 million units, respectively. Desktop Macs accounted for a mere 6 percent of revenues. Same quarter in 2005: 28 percent. What a strange juxtaposition to today -- in fiscal Q1 2005, Apple sold nearly 2.4 times more desktops than portables. The desktop Macintosh is increasingly "dunsel," referring to the term introduced during the original "Star Trek" series to describe a part that no longer has purpose.


Let's look at the numbers differently. Already Apple is more of an iOS company today than Mac OS X company, based on revenues and unit shipments. Regarding units, Apple shipped 4.1 million Macs during fiscal Q1 and more than 33 million iOS devices -- 7.33 million of them iPads. Another way to view Apple is as a mobile company. Mobile products -- including laptops, music players, smartphones and tablets -- accounted for 83 percent of revenues. Desktop is dunsel indeed.

The question: At what point does a laptop and monitor become desktop enough? Surely somebody inside Apple is doing the margins math and logistics analysis that will answer the question. Then Apple stops selling desktop Macintosh. Some people will say "You're nuts!" But Apple has been crazy before, dumping something seemingly essential to everyday computing.

In 1998, the Bondi Blue iMac shipped without legacy ports, replacing them with FireWire and USB. It was a ballsy move for the time, Apple trying to move the computer market forward. Customers moaned, too, when they couldn't connect their legacy peripherals -- nothing important, just printers -- to their shiny new Macs. I bought my first Mac, a refurbished PowerBook in February 1999; the laptop came with a DVD drive, at a time when competitors shipped CD-ROM drives on portables. Later, Apple standardized on digital video interfaces when the rest of the industry used analog ports. Apple also dropped FireWire 400 ports and network adapters on some Mac portables. More recently, with newer MacBook Air models, Apple began the move away from hard drives to solid-state disks.

So why shouldn't Apple go totally portable, too? That's a question I pose to readers who are content creation professionals, designers and developers. Is MacBook Pro good enough for you today, or do you really need that Mac Pro? If MBP isn't good enough, would you want it to be? Do you envision giving up your desktop and going portable in the near future? Please answer the question in comments, or e-mail joewilcox at gmail dot com.

My prediction, and I don't often make any: Apple will go mobile -- say goodbye to desktop Dunsel -- by mid 2012. I make the prediction with a qualification: If Apple CEO Steve Jobs is the decision maker. If he doesn't return from his medical leave, the prediction is retracted. I don't believe Apple would have the corporate will to make so bold a move so soon without Jobs.

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