For Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) fans, this has been an exciting time. Most significantly, Apple began taking pre-orders for its next iGadget -- the Apple Watch -- on April 10, with sales and shipments beginning on April 24. Three days later, April 27, the company will report its second quarter earnings. It is widely expected to raise its dividend at that time as well.
Meanwhile, the product that started it all -- the Mac computer line -- tends to be forgotten. And that's unfortunate. Although Apple's Mac line is only its third largest revenue driver (behind the iPhone and iPad), the product has been performing well.
In Apple's last full fiscal year, revenue for the Mac line increased 12% year over year. That was in line with the growth rate of Apple's important iPhone business and nearly as good as the 13% growth rate in its iTunes, Software, and Services segment.
For observers, Gartner's and IDC's newest data give a peek into Apple's Mac line sales before the upcoming earnings report. Both research firms recently released first quarter numbers for PCs shipped and found the worldwide industry is struggling. Gartner estimated that shipments declined 5.2% year over year, while IDC pegged the decline at 6.7%. In the important U.S. market, however, these two surveys point toward mixed news for Apple.
U.S. market share growth from Gartner
In the U.S., Apple increased its market share percentage from 10.3% in the first quarter of 2014 to 12% in 2015's first quarter, according to Gartner. Apple accomplished this by growing units shipped in the United States by 8.9% -- from 1.53 million units to 1.68 million units -- while the total U.S. market shrank by 1.3% during that period.
Looking deeper into the numbers, however, the comparison to the overall U.S. market becomes a little more muddied. According to Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa, "The first quarter results are not a sign of doom for the U.S. market. The biggest reason for the decline of PC shipments in the U.S. was attributed to the desktop market, which experienced a double-digit decline. This was primarily due to the end of the Windows XP replacement cycle." Apple's Mac line is not affected by Windows upgrades, making the comparison positive for Apple.
IDC concurs on last year's numbers, but differs on growth
Like Gartner, research firm IDC estimates that Apple shipped roughly 1.53 million PCs in the U.S. in Q1 2014. However, IDC is less ambitious on the Q1 2015 shipments figure, reporting 1.56 million units shipped versus Gartner's estimate of 1.68 million. That leads to a lower year-over-year growth figure of only 1.7% in the United States during this period.
To be fair, differences are to be expected in Gartner's data and IDC's. First, Gartner counts Windows-based tablets as personal computers, whereas IDC does not. However, this shouldn't really affect a year-over-year comparison of units sold for Apple. The biggest difference between IDC and Gartner is their current year shipment estimates, but the aforementioned differences would only affect total market share, not shipments.
In the end, I'm more inclined to believe Gartner over IDC on the year-over-year growth numbers. Apple has grown its overall Mac unit sales 8.5% annually from fiscal year 2010 to 2014, going from 13.6 million shipments to 18.9 million in that time frame.
In the end, I expect Apple's U.S -- and worldwide -- growth to continue roughly in line with that trend. That means Gartner's estimate is more plausible than IDC's.
Jamal Carnette owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Gartner. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.