Why OS X is considered successful with a low market share and Windows Phone isn’t

Sean Michael

OSX El Captain

Success is measured in many different ways. While one company or individual may value the quality of the product the most, another may value profit margins. Most people probably connect a combination of factors to success, or to failure, and one term that gets thrown around a lot when referring to Windows Phone as a failure is ‘market share.’ While there are other complaints about Windows Phone, it’s almost impossible to look at a comment section speaking negatively of it without seeing that term.

There is some credibility to that argument. After all, Windows does only have 2.7% of the mobile and tablet market share according to IDC. But market share seems to only be an argument made in select instances. In contrast to negative comments about Windows Phone’s market share, it seems much less common to hear someone negatively speak of Mac OSX even though it only holds a 7.35% market share of operating systems according to NetMarketShare. To get the obvious out of the way, OSX’s 7.35% is almost three times bigger than 2.7% which is what Windows Phone holds but there is still a massive gap between both of these operating system’s market shares and the big fish in their respective markets.

Windows Phone’s 2.7% is miniscule compared to iOS’s 18.3% and Android’s even bigger 78% (which combine to make up over 96% of the mobile market). But OSX’s 7.35% is also tiny compared to Window’s 91.07%, not as tiny in comparison, but still tiny. This leads to the question “why does market share only matter some of the time?” There are few major reasons that OSX is viewed as a success while Windows Phone isn’t.

The media

The media cover Macs far more than PCs despite OSX being outnumbered 12-1 by Windows. That isn’t by accident. Apple has a vice grip on information on their products and company as a whole. The grip on information is so strong that when rumors about the Beats acquisition got out, the Apple PR team didn’t even know about it. 9to5Mac has a brilliant nine part piece of Apple and the media that gives an in depth look at how Apple controls their image.

The Apple PR team has been repeatedly accused of manipulating the media to only report favorable narratives for Apple. Emails are sent highlighting faults of other companies and information about Apple is cut off if one is too negative. The details that get out related to Apple are released almost exclusively through Apple themselves.

Apple isn’t the only company that does this, they could just be the best at it. It’s been said that Apple has the media do their marketing for them.


Apple is a great marketing company. They could sell ice cream trucks to Eskimos. Between product placement in films and movies, and a recurring series of popular advertisements, Apple is almost always in the public eye.

Because people see Apple products on a regular basis, they are viewed as successful, possibly disproportionately so. Only about one in twelve computers seen on television or in films should be an Apple product, but it seems significantly higher than that.

Windows Phones have had successful marketing campaigns, such as the Lumia 1020s ad with parents running over each other to take photos, but they’re fighting an uphill battle. Windows Phones are trying to convert users to their platform and that’s significantly more difficult than what Apple has to do with the iPhone, which in some cases is essentially just announcing that it exists. There’s an iPhone commercial making fun of how excited people get about iPhones (it’s actually a Sprint commercial but it’s for the iPhone on Sprint). Windows Phone has a long way to go before they can have ads making fun of themselves.

My example obviously is comparing Windows Phone’s ads with iPhone ads which are not computers running OSX but in addition to showing that Windows Phone has a powerful competitor to catch up to, it also brings us to our next point.

Apple computers are associated with iPhones and iPads as part of a brand


To many people if you say Apple, they will think of iPhones, iPads, Macbooks, and maybe the Apple Watch because of all the recent news coverage. Comparatively, if you said Windows or Microsoft to many people they would probably think of PCs and maybe the successful Surface line. They might not even immediately associate the Xbox One as a Microsoft product. Where Apple is viewed as one united brand, Microsoft has many products and services that are not immediately recognized as being from the same company.

Apple’s connection of devices in consumer’s minds is a result of quite a few factors. One is that Apple products are often sold as part of an ecosystem. If you use an iPhone and have a Mac you’ll have a better overall experience than if you try to go cross platform. In some cases, such as with the Apple Watch, your only choice to use a device is to be part of the Apple ecosystem.

Another reason is that Apple does a good job of making sure that their logo is on everything. A third and very important distinction between Apple and Windows Phone, or in a larger sense any Windows device, is that the only option to run an Apple OS is on an Apple made device.

If someone has a poor experience on a Windows PC they may incorrectly associate their experience with all PCs. That’s a natural consequence of being able to buy a $99 HP Stream and an i7 Surface Pro 3 running the same operating system. When it comes to an Apple computers, you’ll only have an experience with OSX on an Apple made machine. Since Apple makes high quality devices, people won’t mistakenly associate an OS with poor devices.

Perceived success by association


It’s been reported that only 9% of Apple’s revenue is from Mac computers. Now it’s important to point out that 9% of the richest tech company in the world’s revenue is still a lot, but it isn’t a lot compared to everything else Apple produces. When people think Macs they think of Apple as a whole as previously mentioned, and then they assume success of each correlated product.

It’s curious that this same principle isn’t extended to anything Microsoft makes but that could be a result of our next point.

Reputations are hard to make and easy to break

Word of mouth is a more powerful form of advertising than all the dancing silhouettes in the world. Since people already like Macs, they will continue to tell their friends that they’re the best or that they’re great for certain types of computing. Similarly, because many already dislike Windows Phones, people will continue to tell their friends that they aren’t great.

People also hold on to perceptions forever. The app gap will likely always be talked about and Macs being overpriced will be a topic forever. The thing is that to a lot of people it doesn’t matter what the price is if they view it as worth it. In fact, some actually like purchasing expensive things because they are expensive.

Culture and hipsters

Apple has managed an almost incomprehensible feat. Apple has managed to get people to view their products as hipster and non-mainstream while simultaneously being the most profitable tech company in the world. There’s a culture around some Apple products that says “I’m different.” As pointed out in this article, in the case of devices running OSX that actually is the case. While iPhones are everywhere and Macs are common, Macs are still different enough that they are trendy.

This feat, along with a lion’s share of Apple’s success is due to the fact that Apple has as much control over its image as any company in the world.

Ultimately there are a plethora of reasons that people view things as successful, many of them not having to do with the products themselves and that creates a complicated marketplace. OSX is considered successful by many while Windows Phone isn’t despite both of them having relatively low market shares. As Windows 10 Mobile rolls out and is more deeply connected with Windows 10 and Microsoft as a whole, there’s a chance we’ll see people treat Windows mobile devices similarly to devices running OSX.

Special thanks our readers whose comments inspired this article. Please keep the great comments coming.