Let's look at the numbers. According to IDC, Apple's stateside market share of the PC pie has risen to 4.8%. It's much less than that overseas, where Apple isn't even one of the five biggest players. That's no Mac daddy, my friend.
Now let's turn to the iPod, where we find Apple with a commanding lead in portable media players. According to NPD Group, the iPod owned a whopping 75.6% of the domestic market. The nearest competitor, SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK ) , doesn't even have a double-digit-percentage slice of the MP3-player market.
The iPod is just that powerful. Apple has had no problem battling companies like SanDisk, with its flash-memory prowess, or Creative (Nasdaq: CREAF ) , with its seasoned history in multimedia peripherals. It's a pretty safe bet that those brown Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Zune players won't be flying off the shelves, either. Mr. Softy may have Apple whipped 20-to-1 when it comes to computer operating systems, but no one can touch Apple in the digital music realm.
Pumping up the volume
One can argue that market-share dominance is an incomplete gauge. You'd have to trade in a dozen iPod shuffles to begin saving up for an entry-level Mac. I'm way ahead of you, Woz.
This past quarter found Apple shipping 1.3 million Macs and 8.1 million iPods. The disparity is balanced out on the top line, where the company moved $845 million worth of desktops and $720 million of its laptop systems. Those two line items combine to beat out the $1.1 billion in iPod sales and $241 million in related revenue from digital downloads, iPod services, and royalties from third-party accessory makers. Not by much, though. More importantly, if we follow the money, we see that Apple's CPU business climbed 19% higher over the past year, but iPod-related revenue soared 36%. You can work out the growth trajectory on the back of a cocktail napkin to realize that, at this pace, it won't be long before iPods trounce Macs on Apple's financial statements.
You also have management's move towards video downloads, a strategy that favors its pricier hard-drive-based iPods. Meanwhile, most of the Apple computers being sold now have Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) chips inside. That's a push for mass appeal that will likely drive entry-level prices lower.
Besides, does anyone think the company would have been able to grow its PC business to its present stature -- chewing on its thickest slice of the PC market on this side of the millennium -- if the iPod hadn't reinvigorated the Apple brand to mainstream prominence?
Apple owes so much of its success these days to the iPod. Remember when software developers began shunning the company because they felt that the market had grown too niche for their games and applications? These days, we find mainstream content developers -- movie studios and music labels -- flocking to Apple to cut iPod deals for digital distribution.
Before the iPod, the stock was trading for little more than the greenery on its balance sheet. Five years into the iPod timeline, it has been one of the best-performing tech-stock bellwethers. That's not a coincidence.
Apple is an entertainment company. Have you ever heard of Steve Jobs being on the shortlist to take over Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) ? Me neither. However, there was plenty of buzz surrounding Jobs replacing Michael Eisner at Disney (NYSE: DIS ) before Bob Iger landed the post.
I realize that my argument may upset some of the purists out there. I mean no disrespect to Apple's storied history. My point is simply that its rebirth might never have happened if those first iPods hadn't rolled off the assembly lines in 2001. Even the whole "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads would have felt suspiciously spicy in their swagger if the iPod hadn't cemented Apple's mainstream standing.
So what do you say, Apple? Isn't it high time you took some correction fluid to your corporate letterhead and became Apple Entertainment? You jam more than you RAM, my friend.
Have an opinion on whether the Mac or the iPod drive Apple's performance? Don't stop here! Share your thoughts with our Foolish community in our new beta service, Motley Fool CAPS.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of Apple and has a few iPods in the home, but no Macs (save one that hasn't been fired up in years). He does own shares in Disney. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. Microsoft and Dell have been singled out toInside Valuereaders, while Disney and Dell areStock Advisorrecommendations.The Fool has a disclosure policy.