Mac sales slow, Windows PC sales grow, says NPD

Apple's U.S. retail sales down 1% in November from '07; Windows PCs up 7%

Mac retail sales in the U.S. last month fell 1% from a year ago, even as sales of Windows PCs climbed 7%, market research company NPD Group Inc. reported today.

The downturn is a turnabout for Apple, which through October had managed to maintain growth significantly above the PC industry average, and -- if followed by soft sales this month -- could push the company to cut prices, said NPD analyst Stephen Baker.

"Apple's not immune to the economy," said Baker. "Nor is it immune to having an aged product line. The iMac is long in the tooth."

Buyers last month apparently agreed with that view. According to NPD Group's data, which includes sales results from both brick-and-mortar retailers as well as some of the larger online stores, such as, sales of Apple's desktop computers plunged 38% in November compared to the same month the year before. Sales of desktop PCs equipped with Windows also fell, but they were down just 15%.

"[Apple's] average desktop price is more than twice the industry average desktop price," said Baker, pointing out the relatively high prices for iMacs, which start at $1,199. "If you look at Apple's product line, and ask, 'Where is the hole?' -- anybody will answer 'iMac,'" Baker added.

Apple's current iMac line is little changed from what the company rolled out in August 2007 when it last refreshed its desktops.

The bright spot for Apple was its laptops, which posted sales gains of 22% over November 2007, easily outpacing the 15% growth of Windows-based laptops.

"You never don't want to grow sales, but the thing to point out is that the models that generate 80% of Apple's volume, notebooks, were still growing 50% faster than the rest of the notebook market," Baker said.

Apple's share of retail laptop sales in the U.S. also dropped in November from the month before, slipping to 14.8% from October's 20.9%. NPD Group credited the mid-October debut of the newest MacBooks and MacBook Pros with that month's strong showing.

To some degree, Baker said, Apple was a victim of timing as well as its sales traditions. "Some of this was a result of the calendar," Baker said, noting that Black Friday -- typically the day that Apple jump-starts sales with a one-day promotion -- arrived on Nov. 28 this year. "It was the very last week of the month," Baker noted, "so there were very few holiday sales in the month for Apple."

Even so, December could be a problem for Apple, Baker hinted. "They just don't run the same levels of promotion that Windows PC makers do," he said, referring to holiday discounting. Although Apple did lower prices about 8% for some notebooks and 4% for some desktops on Black Friday, it quickly returned to its full list prices in its own stores.

"If December looks similar, if they don't crush the rest of the market [in growth], then that might convince me to say that they need to lower prices," Baker said.

On another note, Baker said that retail sales of netbooks, the term used to describe small, lightweight laptops priced in the sub-$500 range, were "all hype" so far, and amounted to less than 5% of all laptop sales in November.

That figure could put a crimp on speculation that Apple will roll out its own netbook, perhaps as early as next month, to compete with rivals selling Linux- and Windows XP-powered netbooks.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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