Sales of Apple's iMacs in the US jumped 74 percent during October and November over the same period last year, a retail research firm said today, making the desktop line refresh "a very big success."
iMac sales during the first two months of the final calendar quarter were up so dramatically that it had to take even Apple by surprise, said Stephen Baker, analyst with the NPD Group. "They've reaccelerated that [desktop] segment for Apple," said Baker, noting that the 21 percent jump in overall Mac sales were largely due to iMac sales. Sales of Apple's laptops -- the MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air -- increased by just 5 percent year-over-year during October and November.
"It's hard to imagine Apple could have predicted those iMac sales, especially of the 27-in. models," said Baker.
Although sales of the less-expensive 21.5-in. iMacs were greater than those of the pricier 27-in. version, the big boost in sales of the latter, when compared to previous sales of Apple's top-of-the-line iMacs, was the big surprise to Baker.
"Apple often gets a big jump in sales after a refresh," noted Baker, "and we're on the cusp of that six- to eight-week period. We saw a big jump in March when Apple tweaked the internals of the iMac, but that didn't have the legs that this one seems to have."
Apple launched its revamped iMacs on October 20, replacing the earlier 20- and 24-in. displays with 21.5- and 27-in. screens, and offering quad-core processors on the larger models for the first time.
When asked why the iMacs have done so well -- a turnaround of sorts for Apple, which has seen desktop sales drop steadily over the past several years -- Baker said simply, "I wish I knew."
But he was certain that Apple's problems in delivering 27-in. iMacs was not solely due to technical issues with the computers' graphics cards , a claim some authorised resellers have made after users began reporting major problems with new 27-in. iMacs.
"The [graphics problem] is probably not the only reason for the delays," Baker said, referring to Apple's current two-week span between ordering a new 27-in. iMac and shipping the unit. "Sales have been so strong that they've had to scramble for more product. But just because the 27-in. is outperforming Apple's expectations doesn't mean the [graphics] problems should be dismissed."
Apple has declined to answer questions about whether the 27-in. iMac delays were caused by an unacknowledged hardware glitch, but the company has issued a statement apologizing for the iMac's availability problems, and put the blame on sales. "The new iMac has been a huge hit and we are working hard to fulfil orders as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement released to several news outlets.
The Mac mini, which was also revised two months ago -- including a $999 model that operates as a cut-rate server -- has experienced a sales spike as well. "That's one of the other hidden points in the October-November data," said Baker. "We've seen some decent increases in the Mac mini, which is doing pretty well."
Baker declined to ascribe the smallest desktop Mac's sales gains to the "Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server" offering, but acknowledged that that model was the biggest difference between the line before and after the October 20 refresh.
"They're making some money on that model," Baker said. "The server edition adds another product to the line."
Apple's sales for the quarter will be solidly within the company's expectations, Baker predicted, and the Cupertino, Calif. computer maker is well placed heading into the new year. "They're sitting pretty good going into 2010," Baker argued. "Macs won't look as overpriced next year, especially in the back half of the year, as they did in 2009. The price declines of Windows PCs, especially netbooks can't continue to come down 25 percent, like they did this year."
Apple won't release its official sales figures for the final calendar quarter of 2009 until its conference call with analysts sometime in the second half of January 2010.