Mac Purchases Slip; Netbooks Climb In February - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers

Mac Purchases Slip; Netbooks Climb In February

Would-be Apple buyers aren't opting for netbooks instead; they're holding off until economic conditions improve, an NPD Group analyst said.

Mac sales at U.S. retailers fell for the second month in a row in February, as would-be buyers held off purchases because of the dismal economy, a market research firm said. Unit sales of Macs, including desktops and notebooks, fell 16% in February from the same month a year ago, the NPD Group told InformationWeek Wednesday. Mac desktops dropped 36% and MacBook notebooks were down 7%.

The numbers for Windows PCs appeared rosier. PCs, including desktops and notebooks, were up 22% last month. While desktops unit sales fell 10%, notebooks rose by 36%, NPD said.

NPD's findings are based on sales at U.S. retailers, including Apple stores, as well as retailers' Web sites. NPD doesn't include computers sold directly to consumers from manufacturers, such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard.

NPD analyst Stephen Baker said he didn't believe people were buying a Windows PC instead of a Mac. Instead, people who would normally buy an Apple system in better economic times were holding off until economic conditions improved.

"Mac buyers are more likely not buying," Baker said. "I would categorize this more as a deferment of demand, rather than sales vanishing and going to Windows PCs."

Because Apple's systems are in the higher-end of the PC market, typically costing more than $1,000, people are more likely to wait during bad economic times. Windows PCs, on the other hand, have seen a far larger increase in unit sales because of the popularity of netbooks, which are mini-laptops the sell for less than $500 with many models selling for as little as $300. Apple doesn't sell a notebook for that market.

An indication that netbook sales are driving the Windows PC market is unit sales compared with revenue in February. While unit sales rose 22%, revenue was up only 6%, Baker said. "Sales of nebooks on a unit basis isn't enough to overcome the fact that netbooks are dragging down average selling prices."

Mac revenue at retailers was down 14% in February from a year ago, NPD said. But February 2008 revenue was unusually high because of the introduction of the higher-priced MacBook Air in mid-January, which attracted a significant number of buyers.

Last month, NPD reported that Mac sales at U.S. retailers fell behind Windows PCs in January after leading for months. Unit sales of Apple computers fell 6% year to year and revenue dropped 11%.

Windows PCs, on the other hand, were up 13% from a year ago, but revenue was flat as consumers sought out less-expensive models, particularly netbooks.

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