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Survey: Demand for Apple notebooks declining

Fewer notebook buyers plan to purchase a Mac in the next 90 days, according to Changewave, but would an Apple Netbook really be the answer?

Could falling demand for Apple notebooks be offset by an Apple Netbook? CNET

Apple's Mac division was able to withstand recessionary pressures last quarter by neutralizing a decline in desktop sales with a sharp rise in notebook sales. Will it continue?

A new survey released by ChangeWave Wednesday makes it clear that despite a relatively strong first quarter, Apple is not out of the woods yet. Of respondents planning to buy a notebook in the next 90 days, the percentage of those planning to buy an Apple notebook fell six percentage points to 28 percent, as compared with November's survey.

The overall percentage of respondents planning to buy a notebook fell from 8 percent in November to 6 percent, so it's not just Apple that's feeling the pinch. And consumer electronics spending is on the wane as well, with the percentage of those planning to spend more on consumer tech over the next 90 days falling to a two-and-a-half-year low.

But Changewave says that decline is being partially offset by an increase in demand for Netbooks, a category where Apple is taking a wait-and-see approach. The research firm concludes its report by opining that Apple could be in trouble without a Netbook, because the PC market is growing increasingly price-sensitive as the recession takes hold.

Whether or not you agree with that conclusion probably depends on how you look at the market: Netbooks are growing, but they are low-margin devices that aren't going to do much to help your bottom line. If you increase unit sales at the expense of profits, you're not necessarily better off: you'll get some revenue that might have otherwise gone to a competitor with a more price-conscious offering, but will investors tolerate a decline in gross margin?

Apple's notebook sales are growing faster than the market without a Netbook, at 34 percent year-over-year compared with IDC's estimate of 20 percent for the entire market, although some of that might have been pent-up demand for the redesigned notebooks introduced in October. Netbook shipments are expected to double next year, but just 10 million were sold in 2008, while Apple sold 6.4 million MacBooks and MacBook Pros in calendar 2008.

Apple's real problem has been the plunging interest in its iMac lineup over the last several months; it has actually been falling faster than the market. The company appears ready to upgrade that product line in the next few months, and that appears to have registered with some of Changewave's respondents: among those planning to buy a desktop in the next 90 days, 28 percent said they plan to buy a Mac, up slightly from 27 percent in November.