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Finding the Real Patterns in PC, Software Sales Virtually Impossible

You can't trust numbers, especially when what you're seeing is only half the story. And at this point that's the case in sales of personal computers and operating systems.

Apple has been racking up impressive increases in Mac sales. However, you don't care whether you're selling five units to five people or to two. A sale's a sale. Ah, but a company also needs to know how many customers it has. And if you're not Apple -- or Microsoft or Dell or HP -- you probably have no idea how machine buying splits out. Is a company growing its customer base for future upgrade sales, or are many of its additional sales replacement units for products that fail on a larger-than-normal basis? An accurate answer will heavily influence how you might approach that market, but it's difficult to determine.

The app market is critical to telecommunications and mobile handset sales, only there are few clues as to what is really happening. Not to pick on Apple, but the iPhone is a classic case. The company will announce how many downloads there have been from the app store, and then those in the iPhone after market will run around, thinking that the business opportunity is X large. However, do the downloads include music or maybe even firmware upgrades? I've tried to get a sense from Apple what percentage of the downloads these items represent, only they're not talking. My guess is that some very large portion of the downloads are music and firmware, or else even reloading an app for an upgraded iPhone.

And it's not as though Apple is the only one playing games on the software side. How many copies of Windows 7 has Microsoft shipped? How many of those went into PCs that would have used Windows Vista had 7 not shown up? How many copies were for PCs with Vista that qualified for the free upgrades? That would pretty much be every PC that shipped with anything above Vista Home Basic between July and November, or, what, four or five months (given existing Vista inventory) of a large part of PC sales was eligible for the free upgrade?

Get away from PCs for a moment. How about ERP systems? SAP seems to be riding the current of customers needing maintenance and support. It's not surprising, because the market for the product line is limited, so it's unrealistic to expect constant sales expansion. In fact, some have claimed that both SAP and Oracle have abused their customer relationships in trying to push additional sales, whether of upgrades, consulting, or services. If that is true, then any revenue increases have to be taken with a shaker of salt because they would potentially come at the expense of future business. There are only so many times you can fool customers.

Image via stock.xchng user sundstrom, site standard license.

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