Apple to weather spending breakdown better than rivals?

Apple gains in poll of future spending plans, but fewer Americans in that pool

Consumer spending plans suffered a "massive breakdown" when the economy tanked last month, but Apple will come out of the downturn in much better shape than its competitors, a market research firm said Monday.

The new MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks that Apple unveiled in mid-October look like a hit, according to Paul Carton, ChangeWave's research director. "The MacBooks are off to a good start," said Carlton, noting that of the nearly 3,700 US consumers polled in late October and early November, 7 percent said they were "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to buy one of the aluminum-cased laptops over the holidays.

Slightly fewer -- 6 percent of those surveyed -- said they were likely to purchase one of the white plastic MacBooks, which were retained by Apple but reduced in price by US$100 to $999.

"We do see Apple's numbers looking better going forward, over the next 90 days," Carton said.

Of the consumers who said that they were planning on buying a personal computer in the next three months, Apple garnered 33 percent of those who said it would be a laptop and 27 percent of the buyers who said they would purchase a desktop. Those numbers, Carton pointed out, were above September's results -- which were 29 percent and 26 percent for laptops and desktops, respectively -- but under August's. They were also two percentage points lower than the same time last year.

Apple's loss has been Dell's gain, Carton said: 33 percent of consumers who said they would buy a notebook in the next three months said that they would buy a Dell, while 37 percent who were planning to purchase a desktop named Dell. The latter figure was 11 percentage points higher than in September.

"Dell has had a big pop in desktops," Carton said, "and that seems to be connected to a search for value." Prospective buyers whom ChangeWave interviewed used the phrases "good value," "competitive pricing" and "great value" in describing Dell's offerings.

The problem, however, is that while Dell and Apple may have seen their numbers climb, the numbers of people who said that they would buy were at historic lows for this time of the year. Carton blamed the economy for the missing bounce in consumer electronics, including personal computers, typically receive in November.

"There's been a massive breakdown in consumer spending plans going forward," Carton said. "We've never seen anything like it."

According to ChangeWave's polling, 59 percent of US consumers said they were planning on spending less in the next 90 days, an increase from 52 percent in September. Meanwhile, the number who said they were planning on spending more dropped from 18 percent that month to just 10 percent in November.

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