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Analysts, Amazon say iMac sales strong

It's still too early to get concrete sales figures for the new high-concept iMac. But anecdotal evidence from analysts and the online retail giant points to healthy sales so far.

Apple Computer's new iMacs appear to be off to a good start, according to anecdotal evidence from Amazon.com and Wall Street analysts.

Although it's still too early to get concrete sales figures for the iMac, which debuted last month, analysts believe that sales are strong so far. Market research firm NPD Techworld said it did not have enough data on the iMac's retail sales to comment.

Amazon, however, said Friday that the new iMac, which appeared on the e-tailer's computer store Feb. 13, sold out in less than four hours. Amazon said that the iMac is the fastest-selling computer in the company's history and that Apple laptops and desktops occupy 10 of the top 25 best-seller spots in its computer store.

The first quarter of the year is not a traditionally strong time for PC sales, which have been slumping worldwide in the past year. PC prices have also been steadily dropping.

Apple's iMacs debuted at relatively high prices, partly because they come with a new flat-panel monitor, but consumers apparently don't mind. A larger-than-expected amount of orders have already lengthened shipping times.

"There is an overwhelming amount of demand for the new iMacs, despite the higher price points," UBS Warburg analyst Don Young wrote in a research report Thursday.

Young, who noted that the new iMacs were "gaining traction," based his comments on a private meeting with a senior executive in charge of Apple's retail operations. "The Apple Store is exceeding Apple's traffic expectations," he said.

Mark Specker at SoundView Financial Group had similar news to report, stating in his research report last week that demand had exceeded his initial expectations. Specker said he expects Apple to sell 1.3 million new iMacs during the year.

An Apple representative said the company would not release sales figures for specific products, but said, "We are extremely pleased at the reception and happy that the product is being so well-received."

Apple said in late January that it had received a "record-breaking 150,000 pre-orders for the new iMac." The systems debuted to much acclaim in January. Apple was immediately besieged with orders, pushing back shipping dates by a week or so.

That demand may have caused a temporary shortage in some stores, Specker said.

Anecdotal evidence seems to back this up. Amazon said it was expecting more iMac shipments soon and encouraged customers to keep checking back. Representatives at one online iMac seller said that all of the available models were on back order and wouldn't be ready until the end of March at the earliest.

Specker added that "conversations with store managers and Apple suggest shipments management are becoming more frequent and larger."

Young said Apple's high-end iMac, which retails for $1,799, is shipping on schedule, and a midrange version, priced at $1,499, is scheduled to ship at the end of the month. "We cannot confirm at this point if midrange iMac supply is in line with plans," he said.