Research firm: Mac sales fall six percent in January

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Apple’s year-over-year Mac sales fell 6 percent for the month of January, according to a market research firm that tracks monthly computer sales. Apple’s drop came as monthly sales for Windows PC grew by 16 percent over January 2008, NPD Group reported.

“This is not good,” Stephen Baker, NPD’s vice president of industry analysis, told Macworld. “They need to address the iMac. A big chunk of this is because iMac sales are dropping two to three times compared to Windows PCs.”

In its report on monthly sales trends for January, NPD blamed Apple’s decline on the company’s offerings aimed at bargain shoppers looking for low-cost systems. As U.S. consumers grapple with an ongoing recession, computer buyers are shifting their attention toward low-cost models. While Apple added a sub-$1,000 MacBook to its offerings last fall and improved the graphics on that model last month while maintaining its $999 price tag, the company has done little on the desktop end. The iMac line last saw an update in April 2008 while the low-end Mac mini has gone a year-and-a-half without an update.

“What we’re seeing is that consumers are not buying based on value, they are buying based on price. Apple is selling value,” Baker said.

Interestingly, NPD’s report suggests that the upper end of the computer market seems stable. People looking to buy computers priced at $1,500 and higher are less concerned with price than shoppers targeting the lower-end of the market.

In the past, Apple has been reluctant to compete for bargain-hunting computer shoppers, choosing instead to tout the quality of its product line. And that seems likely to continue, even in the current economic climate. Last October, speaking to analysts during Apple’s quarterly conference call to announce earnings, CEO Steve Jobs said that Apple’s core customers tend to delay purchases during tough times rather than seek out a cheaper brand. Jobs has also dismissed the chances of Apple building a low-cost netbook to compete with similar offerings from rival computer makers. “We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk,” the Apple CEO said last year.

NPD’s figures come as Apple has enjoyed otherwise strong sales for its Mac offerings. In January, the company reported record Mac sales for its fiscal first quarter. The company said it sold more than 2.5 million Macs, a 9-percent jump in unit growth from last year’s first quarter. However, much of that growth came from laptops, which accounted for more than 70 percent of Apple’s Mac sales for the quarter.

That suggests to NPD’s Baker that, at the very least, Apple’s desktop line is overdue for some updates.

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