Notebook PC Sales Outpace Desktops: Good News For Apple (AAPL)


Notebook computer sales outpaced desktop PC sales for the first time last quarter, according to research firm iSuppli.

Worldwide, PC companies shipped 38.6 million notebook computers in Q3, up almost 40% year-over-year. Desktop PC shipments grew 1.3% year-over-year to 38.5 million units.

That’s good news for Apple, which is increasingly a notebook company. If the trend toward notebooks continues — which we expect it will — Apple stands to gain market share.

Last month — which will be reflected in iSuppli’s Q4 analysis — Apple U.S. notebook sales — led by new MacBooks — increased 22% year-over-year, about 1.5x the rate that Windows-based notebook sales grew, according to research firm NPD Group. (That won’t translate directly to Apple’s worldwide share — it’s not nearly as popular outside the U.S. — but it’s still a good trend.)

One unknown for Apple: How it will compete with the newest wave of notebooks from PC makers — small, cheap, less powerful “netbooks,” which are catching on with geeks and some business travellers. Netbooks cost around $400-500, while Apple’s cheapest laptop starts at $1,000 and has a large display.

We think Apple will eventually offer a $500-700 ultra-portable computer with a 7-to-10-inch screen, but we don’t think it’ll be in the cramped netbook design. We think Apple is more likely to sell a tablet-like device using its multi-touch technology for an on-screen keyboard, and a software model similar to the one it uses for the iPhone and iPod touch.

Meanwhile, Apple will have to make sure its desktop business doesn’t tank. Its U.S. desktop shipments dropped 35% year-over-year last month. That could get a boost as soon as next month, when Apple is widely expected to unveil new desktops, such as a new Mac mini.

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