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Microsoft claims Windows licensing gains are chipping into Apple's 'premium' computer market

Licensing of Windows to PC makers was up 5 percent in the December quarter, according to Microsoft CFO Amy Hood, driven in part by sales of "premium" devices over $900 —a category Apple's Macs have traditionally enjoyed a comfortable position in.

"Non-pro" licensing was up 5 percent in its own right during the quarter, outdoing the general shrinkage of the PC industry, Hood said during a results call on Thursday evening, overheard by Business Insider. Microsoft's partners "continued to see growth and share gains in the Windows premium device category," she noted.

Apple has increasingly focused its Mac lineup on wealthier shoppers, letting the Mac mini and MacBook Air fall by the wayside in favor of more expensive models. The cheapest Mac with modern specifications is now either the 12-inch MacBook or the 13-inch MacBook Pro, both of which cost at least $1,299 before any upgrades.

In recent years PC makers have typically aimed at low- to mid-range systems to compete on cost, with some exceptions, but Microsoft itself has been aiming to lead the market back into premium devices with the likes of the Surface Book and the Surface Studio, as well as more expensive versions of the Surface Pro 4.

The market for similar hybrid tablets is growing, Business Insider observed, and PC makers are increasingly releasing VR-ready computers, which demand more performance. No Mac is powerful enough to support either of the two leading VR headsets, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.

In December Microsoft claimed that more people were switching from MacBooks to Surface devices than ever, driven partly by "the disappointment of the new MacBook Pro," particularly among professionals.

Apple though has so far been upbeat about Pro sales, in November saying that "our online store has had more orders for the new MacBook Pro than any other pro notebook before." Hard numbers should appear in Apple's December-quarter financial results, due to be announced on Tuesday.