Apple now sells more than one in six laptops in US

Coming next: A top-to-bottom iPod refresh, says analyst

Apple's share of the laptop market is growing -- the company now sells more than one in every six laptops purchased in the U.S., a research firm said today.

"Apple's definitely up," said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group. "Their sales are continuing to grow faster than the rest of the marketplace."

NPD, which collects its data primarily from retail sources and excludes most online and all direct sales, said Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops accounted for 17.6 percent of June's unit sales, an uptick of more than three percentage points from May's 14.3 percent.

Baker attributed the jump in market share to refreshes that both laptop lines recently received. The lower-priced MacBook was updated in mid-May with faster processors and more memory, while 15-in. models of the high-end MacBook Pro were outfitted with new backlit LED screens in early June.

The market share increase pushed Apple past Gateway into third place on NPD's list of laptop sales leaders, behind Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. Research firm IDC also has Apple in the third spot; data it released last month put Apple's share of U.S. sales at 5.6 percent, far behind leaders HP (28.4 percent) and Dell (23.6 percent) but tied with Gateway.

Back-to-school sales during this month and next, Baker said, should be strong for Apple, but his forecast is that the company's share will remain stable through the quarter. "I don't expect it to improve any from the June numbers," said Baker.

The next move by Apple, said Baker, will likely not be in its computer business -- it refreshed the iMac family earlier this month -- but on the iPod side. "I'll stay firmly in the path of conventional wisdom and say that it's iPods next," Baker said. "They haven't been refreshed in almost a year."

Although bloggers and Apple-centric Web sites have been touting rumors of iPod announcements coming as soon as next Tuesday, Baker didn't have any inside information on possible release dates or even details. However, he did have some predictions.

"Apple will up the capacity of the Shuffle," he said. The diminutive player, which sells for US$79, currently maxes out at 1GB.

"And Apple has to decide where they want to go with the Nano. It's a music player now, so the question is what can they do if they want to keep it in that form factor?" Some reports have surfaced with photos showing a shorter, wider Nano, with a screen better suited to video. At least one such posting has pulled the photos at Apple's request, fueling speculation that the images were legitimate.

"I think we'll also see a whole revamp of the iPod video line," added Baker, citing talk of an iPod with the same size and shape -- including screen size -- as the iPhone as one possibility.

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