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The Mac slides, but not as badly as the PC market

Recent data shows that sales of Apple's laptops are slowing--but not nearly as much as those of rival Hewlett-Packard. During the recession, consumers will focus more on value.

Somehow,'s Shane O'Neill divines that Apple's customers are dumping it in droves now that the global recession has kicked in. His evidence? A 6-percent retail sales drop in January compared to January 2008, according to NPD Group:

Apple, welcome to Earth in 2009, where premium pricing doesn't cut it anymore...We live in a time where cheap is trumping cool, and probably will until this economy turns around. That's bad news for Apple, which has no Netbook (that we know of).

This is a bold statement to make on one month's worth of data, especially when he also cites data from Hewlett-Packard, which endured a 13 percent drop in laptop revenue in its most recent quarter. Cheap(er) laptops are selling even less than Apple's.

This is the evidence that Apple is in retreat and that customers refuse to pay a premium for its quality? That its rivals are hurting even worse, as they try to sell their cheaper machines? I'm not seeing it.

The reality is that Apple already does have a "low end" Internet device to offer the market. It's called the iPhone. No, it doesn't offer a full computing experience, but then, neither do Netbooks.

The difference in the iPhone's favor, however, is that it comes with a host of applications unavailable on Windows- or Linux-based Netbooks: the App Store. True, most of these applications rarely get used after customers kick the tires on them, as CNET reports, but that's the magic: the applications are so cheap, they're disposable.

The real question for me will be whether Apple ever condescends to market the iPhone as a Netbook-type device: a comparable price tag with a nearly limitless (and cheap) application potential. I don't think that it will, and I don't think that it should.

I use a Mac for the same reason that I used to swear by IBM ThinkPads: quality. The quality was and is worth the price.

Now that I have an operating system that matches the quality of the hardware, I'll gladly pay for it. However, I'm not rushing out to buy anything right now, and I'm not alone, which is why both PC and Mac sales will continue to slide--but not in equal proportions.

I suspect that the recession will continue to hurt PC vendors more than Apple, because the PC vendors have little with which to differentiate themselves. Customers looking to buy a machine are going to increasingly look to the Mac, even in these hard times, because the Mac delivers value that exceeds its price tag.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.