Vista Will Have Little Impact on Mac Sales: Analyst

A new report by Piper Jaffray surveyed 50 Best Buy stores and found that while demand for PCs after the Vista launch are strong, the operating system's impact on Macs has been minimal.

While the launch of Microsofts Windows Vista operating system will drive consumer PC sales in the coming months, the operating systems impact on sales of Apples Macintosh are expected to be minimal, according to a recent report.

In a Feb. 14 research report, Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, surveyed 50 Best Buy retail stores and found that while the launch of the consumer version of Vista in January has driven buyers to look at new PCs, it does not appear this will affect Mac sales.

Of the 50 stores surveyed, 72 percent told Munster that Vista was driving an interest in new PCs, while only 29 percent said it wasnt. However, 80 percent of stores reported selling less Vista operating systems than anticipated.

However, Munster cautions that if buyers stick with buying Microsoft-based PCs, it could have an impact on Mac sales during the second quarter of this year. Macs share of the market, according to the report, is expected to slide from 2.5 percent to 2.3 percent by the second quarter.

"Due to pent-up demand for PCs with Vista preinstalled, we anticipate a spike in PC sales during the Mar-07 quarter, which could put downward pressure on Mac market share," Munster wrote.

There also is a strong possibility that the renewed interest in purchasing a PC, especially a notebook, could lead consumers to consider a Mac as an alternative to a Windows-based computer.

"We also believe that widespread computer upgrades could lead consumers to evaluate their options, which may allow Apple to sway buyers toward the Mac platform," Munster wrote.

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"Long term, we are confident that Mac market share will rise; as the PC market shifts toward portables, Apples market share will benefit from higher share in this category," Munster added.

By looking at Best Buy stores, Munster decided to examine the impact Vista will have on consumers, as well as small and midsized businesses that buy only a limited number of computers at a time. This has a direct impact on the majority of Mac users, who are generally consumers and creative professionals, although the company does have a strong presence in the education market.

The survey does not address how Vista will affect the enterprise market. Several analysts have predicted that IT administrators will be slow to adopt Vista as they conduct more rigorous tests on the OS in the coming year. It might take until the end of the decade for most large enterprises to adopt Vista, but consumers and SMBs are expected to adopt the OS much sooner.

Apple has moved away from the enterprise market to concentrate more on consumer electronics, such as the iPhone and the iPod, and its hard-core group of professional users such as graphic designers.

This strategy, plus a "halo" effect, has helped Apples Mac sales as some people look for an alternative to Windows-based PCs.

According to recent reports of PC sales by IDC and Gartner, Apple accounts for only about 5 percent of the U.S. computer market, but the company watched its market share grow by 30 percent in 2006, which outstripped the rest of the industry. Industry watchers believe the companys switch to Intel processors helped it sell more PCs, although the company reported flat sales in the fourth quarter of 2006.

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The one variable in the Mac versus PC question will likely be answered in the coming weeks as Apple prepares to launch its new Mac OS X 10.5, "Leopard." So far, Apple has been appealing to users by showing that many of the same features found on Vista have already been available in the Mac OS X 10.4, code-named Tiger, and that its OS remains much easier to install and use.

According to Munsters historical analysis, Apple shipped about 2 million copies of Mac OS X 10.4 when it was released in April 2005. In that first year of its availability, the company had shipped about 7 million copies of its OS.

Since that time, the report suggests that the number of Mac operating systems installed has grown from 16 million to approximately 20 million. This could mean that about 40 percent of current Mac users will upgrade to the new OS when its released in the spring.

Apple has been silent about when it will release Leopard, although Munster anticipates a late-April launch.

These numbers suggest, according to the report, that Apple could ship about 2.6 million copies of the OS in its first month of availability, and the company could realize a windfall of $130 million in sales revenue. This also could mean about 9 million copies of Leopard could be in circulation by years end.

"With the release of Leopard, Mac market share will benefit from upward pressure from slight pent-up demand," Munster wrote. "Moreover, with the release of Leopard, investors will shift their focus back on the Mac chapter of the Apple story."

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