Mac sales corral 14% of US retail market

Apple boosts year-on-year market share significantly

Apple's continued success at retail translated into a boost in its slice of the US market share to 14% last month, up from 9% in the same month last year, a research firm says.

Mac notebooks did particularly well in February, according to the NPD Group, which tracks US sales at retail and some online sites, including Apple's own e-store as well as Amazon.com. "The MacBook and MacBook Pro did pretty well, and made a smooth transition to the Penryn," says Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD, talking about the new 45-nanometer processor from Intel.

"And Apple got a nice bump from the MacBook Air," Baker added. The MacBook Air, the ultra-thin laptop that CEO Steve Jobs unveiled in mid-January but that didn't start shipping until early February, accounted for about 20% of Apple's notebook sales for the month. Better still for Apple, Baker says, it appears that the new model didn't cannibalise sales of the existing lines.

"It looks like the Air is giving Apple an incremental volume opportunity," Baker says.

Unit sales of Mac notebooks, including the Air, grew 64% last month over the same month the year before, while its desktop models were up 55% over 2007. Apple's notebook sales uptick was more than triple the 20% growth rate of all laptop sales in the US for the month, and its desktop sales, up significantly, compared favourably against the US average, which actually decreased 5% in unit sales year-to-year.

When both notebook and desktop units sales were combined, Apple's increase of 60% year-to-year was nearly seven times greater than the relatively meager 9% of overall US sales growth.

"Regardless of the month, when Apple comes out with new products, they get a big bump in sales," Baker says. "They're just much more focused when they have a new product to announce."

Other than the MacBook Air shipping in volume, February also saw Apple refresh its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines by shifting to faster, more power-efficient 45-nanometer Penryn processors from Intel and bumping up the size of the notebooks' hard drives.

Baker attributes Apple's success to a number of factors, but says its retail stores — and the way it crafts consumers' complete "buying experience" — was the most important. "The market sometimes discounts this, but Apple's stores is key to what they do," he says.

"HP is looking to replicate some of this, but even that shows how difficult it is to use third-party retail without managing the entire experience."

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