Apple easily beat the industry average for sales growth in the first three months of the year, boosting its US sales by nearly 10 times that average, a research firm said Wednesday.
Gartner's estimates of US sales by the top five computer makers pegged Apple as No. 4 behind Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Acer, selling 1.01 million machines in the first quarter, or about 6.6 per cent of the market's total.
But it was year-to-year growth that showed Apple in the best light. According to Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa, Apple sold 32.5 per cent more machines in the first three months of 2008 than it did in the same period last year.
"Apple continued to do quite well in the US market," said Kitagawa. "Its growth is well above the US average of 3 per cent." However, if Gartner's projections hold true -- Apple will release its official figures next Wednesday during its quarterly earnings call -- the growth rate during early 2008 won't match the 44 per cent year-to-year gains the company posted for 2007's fourth calendar quarter.
Apple's sales are impressive when put in context, said Kitagawa, who acknowledged that price pressure -- caused by the US's slumping economy -- was "greater than we expected" during the year's first three months.
"Apple's brand premium is really high," Kitagawa noted. "...The general perception that Macs are overpriced isn't correct. If you do an apples-to-apples [comparison], Macs are really not that expensive." Apple, however, lacks a "really low-end system" that can compete, price-wise, against the least-expensive laptops from rivals, which is where much of the sales action is.
When asked to explain Apple's strong showing, Kitagawa ticked off a couple of reasons. "We believe Apple has some momentum in the small business market, and we're still in the replacement cycle from the old CPUs to the new CPUs," she said, referring to the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors that began more than two years ago.
"That's still driving sales," Kitagawa said.
Rival research firm IDC also published its first quarter computer sales estimates yesterday. Like Gartner, it put Apple in the No. 4 slot behind Dell, HP and Acer, and ahead of Toshiba America. IDC's projections, however, had Apple's first-quarter sales at 950,000 Macs in the US, a year-to-year increase of 25.1 per cent.
IDC estimated the US growth average at 3.5 per cent.