Mac sales jump nearly 40%

Apple's retail sales rebound from early 2009's poor performance

Retail sales of Apple's Mac computers jumped 43% last month compared with the same month in 2009, and increased 36% year over year in January, research company NPD Group said today.

The big increases should not be a surprise: Mac sales in the first quarter of 2009 were lackluster. A year ago, Apple acknowledged a drop-off in sales, the first decline in more than six years.

This year's first-quarter sales will be higher than both last year's and 2008's, said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD. "They'll be significantly above 2008's because 2009 wasn't down 40%," he said, referring to the upswing over 2009.

NPD tracks U.S. sales at both brick-and-mortar and major Internet outlets, including Apple's own online store.

Apple sold 2.3 million Macs in the first quarter of 2008, and 2.2 million in the first quarter of 2009. Assuming that sales this quarter maintain their current pace, Apple could sell as many as 3 million Macs, a number it has reached only twice before, most recently in the final quarter of 2009, when it set a sales record of 3.4 million systems.

"Ever since the refresh of the MacBook Pros last year, they've done well," said Baker, referring to the sales comeback that started around mid-year. Apple revamped most of its laptops in June 2009, and reduced prices between 6% and 28% at the same time.

Baker cited the $999 MacBook and the lowest-priced MacBook Pro -- the $1,199 13-in. model -- as the two biggest retail sellers in the company's portable line.

But the new iMacs, which debuted in October 2009, also remain big sellers. "It's been a good platform," Baker said. "I'm not sure why it's selling better [than the previous desktop], but then, the entire PC market is doing extremely well right now."

Last December, Baker touted the revamped iMac as "a very big success" when he said Apple's desktop system sales were up 74% during October and November 2009 compared with the same months the year before. According to Apple, Mac desktops finished the fourth quarter of 2009 up 70% over the previous year.

Baker also said that the average sales price, or ASP, of Macs continued to fall during the first two months of the year, not because Apple lowered prices, but because more customers turned to the less-expensive models in the company's inventory.

"They had been running around $1,500," Baker said of ASPs last year. "But now they're in the $1,300 range."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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