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How Apple is gaining on Microsoft

Both companies beat expectations last week, but only one of them was growing

A year ago we ran a bar graph similar to the one at right. It showed that Apple (aapl), despite the Mac's tiny market share compared with Microsoft (msft) Windows, was gaining on the software giant. The main reason: revenue pouring in from the iPhone but hidden as deferred earnings in Apple's balance sheet. (That chart is posted below the fold.)

Last week Apple and Microsoft once again reported quarterly earnings -- and enjoyed nice pops on the stock market. But their growth rates turn out to be very different.

This quarter, deferred iPhone revenue isn't as big a deal for Apple as it was last year (non-GAAP earnings actually grew more slowly than GAAP; see here for why). Ironically, it was Microsoft that had to use deferred revenue from Windows 7 to show any growth at all. Otherwise, Microsoft's revenue for the third quarter was down 14% year over year and its earnings down 17%.

Apple's revenue, meanwhile, grew 25% and its income 46.6%.

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Apple's war chest, in terms of cash and cash equivalents, is larger than Microsoft's, $34 billion to $33 billion, taking long-term debt into account (Apple has none).

And as far as market share, that depends what market you're looking at.

The bar graph above shows the Mac's share of the U.S. personal computer market, which has inched up to 9.4%, according to IDC.

Meanwhile, the iPhone's share of the worldwide smartphone market has grown from 2.8% to 13.3%, according to Gartner, while Windows Mobile has been relegated to "Others." And the iPod continues to command roughly 70% of the MP3 player market; Zune's share hovers around 2%.

The consensus on Wall Street is that Microsoft has turned a corner, and both Apple and Microsoft rallied last week. But over the past year -- since we last did this exercise -- Apple's shares have grown four times faster.

Below, as promised, last year's version of the bar chart:

Click on the chart to see last year's post.

Thanks to reader Mark Taylor for the suggestion.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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