posted by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Feb 2009 14:36 UTC
IconWith the economy in decline, many fear that the one company to take the financial blow would be Apple. The company focusses on the higher end of the market (at least in price), and with many people having less and less money to spend, as well as facing insecure financial prospects, people may decide to choose for a cheaper, non-Apple computer. Piper Jaffray, an Apple-friendly analyst firm, has projected that the Cupertino company is about to face a decline in year-over-year Mac sales; for the first time in six years.

The conclusion by Piper Jaffray is based on sales figures of the first month of this year, during which less Macs were sold than the same month last year; Mac sales declined 6%, a sharper decline than expected. iPod sales were also down January, with a decline of 14%, also worse than expected. Piper Jaffray estimates that during the entire first quarter of 2009, Apple will sell between 2.0 and 2.2 million Macs, opposed to 2.3 million in the first quarter of 2008. Now, analysts are of course just doing educated guess work with lots of data, but still, the question remains: is Apple going to face its first serious headwind in years due to the economic crisis?

Every indication is that it will. Apple's most popular form factor market is the notebook section, and it has been pretty much established now that that market is moving towards cheap, small laptops, also known as netbooks. Figures worldwide and from Europe show that currently, people prefer cheap and small laptops, most likely (but not surely) dictated by the economic climate.

Apple has nothing to offer in this market. Apple has never been attainable for people who were already in the lower segments of the market, but due to the crisis, this lower segment is increasing. As long as Apple has nothing to offer to the people who previously could afford a Mac, but no longer can - they are going to loose these customers, at least for the duration of the crisis. And with every indication being that the crisis will have its effects until at least 2010, Apple could face some serious blows in their computer hardware business.

One thing that could turn the tide for Apple is the release of new iMacs and Mac Minis. Sales of desktop Macs were down pretty heavily during the holiday season, so an injection in that segment might make sense. Especially the Mac Mini hasn't been properly updated in ages, so a new Mac Mini might lead to a spur in Mac sales.

All in all though, only time will tell. Analysts are analysts, and even for them it's still guess work. Still, right now might be the time to release an affordable portable Mac that can compete with netbooks. 10" Display, sleek Apple design, Intel Atom with Nvidia's Ion, USD 499. Sales will be through the roof.

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