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Apple CEO defends Mac line; analysts foresee iPad hybrids

Gregg Keizer | April 25, 2013
Sales down for second quarter in a row, but Apple can "redefine" personal computer, experts argue

"Apple can drive the heck out of the iPad, especially the [9.7-in.] model, but I believe in their future there's a hybrid device. There's lots of room, especially in the enterprise, for a $699 'convertible' iPad."

Moorhead envisioned such a move, if Apple makes it, in 2014.

Carolina Milanesi of Gartner had different thoughts, triggered by an apparent tilt in the mix of iPads sold last quarter toward the less-expensive iPad Mini. How Apple positions the next iteration of the iPad Mini, and whether it keeps the current model in its inventory, will hint at Apple's personal computer strategy, Milanesi said.

Mac unit sales were down 2% in the first quarter, the second consecutive decline. But CEO Tim Cook refused to abandon personal computers. (Data: Apple.)

"An iPad Mini in the enterprise could be seen, like other smaller tablets, as a companion to an ultrabook," she said. "It will be interesting to see how Apple deals with the MacBook Air then."

But like Moorhead, she said there's a possibility Apple will react to the PC business changes with a hybrid device. "In the enterprise, the power of having something that works, say, 80% of the time as a notebook, is powerful," Milanesi said. If Apple does take the hybrid/convertible approach with the MacBook Air, the iPad Mini, as small as it is, would nicely serve as a companion, even though the Air would be, as she said, "a tablet when you wanted it to be."

Others saw another Mac strategy for Apple.

"It's not that PCs are dying, that's silly," said Gottheil. "The PC is maturing, though, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood will be difficult. But the Mac is an anchor for them. It's important to Apple, and it's clearly profitable."

Mac sales in the first quarter generated $5.45 billion in revenue, up 7% over the prior year. Gottheil credited the revenue increase to a shift to more expensive models, most likely the 13-in. MacBook Pro with its Retina-quality display: The ASP, or "average selling price," of the Mac climbed to $1,378 from $1,359 in the previous quarter, and was $74 higher than a year earlier.

Riffing on the idea that consumers, but also businesses, are keeping their personal computers for longer periods -- spending the money for replacement machines on tablets instead -- Gottheil argued that Apple is better positioned to benefit from the trend than most Windows OEMs.

"That may be an opportunity, the pony in the manure heap," said Gottheil. "If consumers know they're going to keep their computers longer, they may be more tolerant of the Mac's higher entry prices."

He compared that thinking to what drives many consumers to buy higher-priced automobiles, thinking that a more reliable car, one with extra features, makes economic sense if they intend to hold onto it for nearer a decade than not.


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