iPad 'halo' effect pushes Mac sales, use, ChangeWave says

Other experts see different reasons for Apple's gains

Experts used different data today to conclude that strong iPad sales have created a "halo" effect for Apple, boosting the number of Mac computers the company has sold.

"The iPad is cannibalizing sales of other Apple hardware to some degree," acknowledged Paul Carton, research director at consumer spending research firm ChangeWave. According to a recent ChangeWave survey of more than 3,400 U.S. consumers, 17% who purchased an iPad said they bought the media tablet rather than an Apple laptop, while 6% said they picked the iPad over an iMac or other Apple desktop system.

"But there are very strong counterbalances to this cannibalization," Carton argued. "Our latest [computer buying plans] poll showed a four-point surge for the Mac, the biggest in the last three years. The iPad has a halo effect on the Mac because of all the surrounding publicity about the iPad and the additional floor traffic at Apple's stores."

Losses to the iPad are more than made up the halo-generated increase in Mac sales, Carton maintained. "I wouldn't be as concerned [about cannibalization] after seeing the other Apple numbers for the quarter," he said.

Chitika Research, an arm of Westborough, Mass.-based online advertising network Chitika, also painted a halo over the iPad.

In April, Macs accounted for 10.3% of all the machines that reached its ad network, a three-percentage point boost over March, representing a 41% month-to-month increase. Macs accounted for between 7.1% and 7.4% of the systems tracked by Chitika in the January-March period.

Daniel Ruby, the research director of online insights at Chitika, had only one explanation. "I'd say that 90% of that increase was due to the iPad halo effect," Ruby said.

The jump doesn't appear to be a one-time surge. "The real early numbers for May show that this is continuing. This doesn't seem to be a spike that is going to go away," said Ruby. "I think you can draw a direct correlation between the iPad and increased Mac usage."

Ruby credited the bulk of the sudden increase in the Mac's share on Chitika's network to climbing Mac sales, and like Carton, cited the iPad's ability to pull consumers into Apple's retail stores as the primary reason. "Apple is always in the news," he said, discounting the pre- and post-launch publicity around the iPad. "Steve Jobs sneezes and it makes the news. The additional foot traffic is a big part of it."

Apple's retail stores emphasize a hands-on experience with the company's hardware, which is on display for anyone to touch, type on and play with. "With the iPad, people want to see it for themselves and play around with it before buying it," Ruby said. "And Apple's stores are designed to get things in people's hands. Something like the iPad is perfect to get people in the door."

But not everyone sees an iPad halo. The uptick in Mac buying plans that ChangeWave's poll spotted, as well as the surge in Mac usage Chitika noticed, has a simpler explanation, said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the retail research firm NPD Group.

"[April] was the first month of the new MacBook Pro," Baker said in an interview earlier this week. "Apple traditionally sees a sales jump in volume after new models are released."

Baker was referring to Apple's April 13 refresh of the MacBook Pro laptop line that gave the laptops faster processors and longer-life batteries while lowering prices of two models and raising the price of another.

Still others believe an iPad halo exists, but argue that it's very tough to separate any iPad sway from the general increase in sales of all computers, not just Macs.

"Apple gets a halo effect with the every product, especially when it manages to get someone into an Apple store who hasn't been there before," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "But the early data on the iPad indicated that most buyers were already in the Apple club. I'm sure there's been some incremental uptake, but Apple's year-over-year sales growth isn't really that much brisker than other PC vendors."

Gottheil has a point: Last month, both IDC and Gartner pegged the first quarter U.S. computer industry average year-over-year sales increase at 17% and 20%, respectively. According to Apple's first quarter earnings report, Mac sales climbed 33% from the same period the year before. Previously, the gap between Apple and the average numbers has been significantly larger.

"There is [an iPad halo effect], but really, it's not that large," said Gottheil.

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.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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