Apple Tablet Rumors Stirring Strong Wave of Demand

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by: ChangeWave Research

By Paul Carton

A January ChangeWave survey of consumer PC buying trends showed the 'iSlate' – Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) highly rumored but yet to be announced Tablet Mac – is causing a major wave of demand among consumers, with repercussions that are already affecting the PC industry and related markets.

The survey also shows a surge in computer purchases over the past 90 days, driven in large part by Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 7 momentum.

Past 90 Days. A total of 15% of the 3,314 respondents in our January survey bought a laptop in the past 90 days and 8% a desktop – the highest combined level of the past two years.

But going forward, the rumored upcoming launch of an Apple 'iSlate' Tablet is already having a powerful impact on PC demand.

The 'iSlate' is expected to be a mobile multimedia and web browsing device costing between $500-700, according to most analysts, who also believe it will be available as early as March 2010. Expected features include a 10-inch touch screen display, an innovative 3D user interface, virtual keyboard, WiFi and full integration with iTunes and Apple's App store.

Apple's confirmed January 27th event to introduce its "latest creation" has heightened media speculation. To gauge the potential for the Tablet Mac, we asked respondents how likely it is they'll buy an 'iSlate' if-and-when it becomes available.

The survey results show strong consumer interest – with 4% of respondents saying they are Very Likely and 14% Somewhat Likely to buy one for themselves or someone else.

Among interested consumers, three-quarters say they're willing to pay $500 or more for the new 'iSlate,' and 37% say they'd pay more than $700. But how does this level of interest stack up against previous Apple product transformations that were launched after a prolonged and powerful media buzz?

While there are no exact comparisons, one way to gauge the level of interest in a Tablet Mac is to compare it to the reaction in 2005 when Apple announced it would begin producing its Macs using the Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) chip.

In an August 2005 ChangeWave survey we asked consumers if Apple's switch to the Intel chip made them more likely to buy an Apple computer in the future, less likely, or would it have no effect?

The results were strikingly similar to our current findings for the 'iSlate'. Here is a comparison of the pre-launch demand findings for each:

In the current survey, the exact same percentages say they're likely to buy the Apple 'iSlate' as we found when we surveyed consumer reaction to Apple's switch to the Intel chip back in 2005.

Bottom Line. Apple's switch to the Intel chip widely broadened the Mac's appeal to consumers and proved to be one of the great moves in Apple history. Five years later, our ChangeWave survey shows similarly high levels of pre-launch excitement for the Mac Tablet.

While this, in and of itself, doesn't guarantee success – and the product has yet to prove it'll live up to super-high consumer expectations – it does show the enormity of the Mac Tablet's potential to alter the dynamics of the PC market and related markets (e.g., e-reader/ e-book market). But the real impact won't be fully determined until consumers get to see it, feel it, test it and decide if the 'iSlate' is all it's chalked up to be.

In short, while historically Apple products have had an enviable track record in terms of exceeding consumer expectations, until consumers get their hands on the 'iSlate' – in spite of the powerful pre-launch demand – it's important to remember the product doesn't officially exist yet.

Regardless, the unrelenting media frenzy has jolted the 'iSlate' into the spotlight, and it is already having an impact on PC demand trends and related markets.

PC Manufacturers

As mentioned, PC sales for the past 90 days have been absolutely stellar, up 31% between our October 2009 and January 2010 surveys.

The rising tide has lifted all boats, although going forward our survey shows the normally expected post-holiday dip in consumer planned PC buying – with planned buying of laptops (8%) down 2-pts and desktops (5%) down 2-pts.

Focusing on the traditional PC market, the surge in sales of the Windows 7 Operating System has been clearly helping both Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL).

Hewlett-Packard Sales – Past 90 Days: Hewlett-Packard has experienced a 4-pt jump in laptop market share (29%) since October, although its desktop share (27%) has remained unchanged. Note that approximately 70% of H-P's sales come from outside the U.S., whereas our ChangeWave surveys focus primarily on the U.S. market.

Dell Sales – Past 90 Days: A total of 29% of respondents who bought a computer over the past 90 days say they purchased a Dell desktop – 5-pts higher than in October. Another 18% say they got a Dell laptop – a 1-pt uptick.

Apple Sales – Past 90 Days: After experiencing a huge surge in laptop sales during September and October due to multiple factors – including updates to its laptop line and a strong Back-to-School season – Apple's laptop share (17%) was 7-pts less over the past 90 days. However, its Mac desktop share (20%) was up 3-pts.

Importantly, overall PC sales for the past 90 days have experienced a huge 31% rise, primarily due to the Windows 7 effect and the improved consumer spending environment. It's understandable, therefore, that Apple's laptop share was lower this survey relative to its traditional competitors who have greatly benefited from the Windows 7 upgrade.

The X Factor. Overall, we expect Apple to report solid Mac sales for the holidays. However, the survey results also suggest that an X factor may be coming into play – and that some potential Mac laptop buyers may have already begun delaying their purchases short term in order to wait for the 'iSlate' release before they make their final decision.

Back in our August 2005 ChangeWave survey, 37% of potential Mac buyers said they would delay their purchases short term to wait for the new Intel chip.

Skipping to the present, while nowhere near that number of Mac laptop buyers are delaying their decision because of the 'iSlate' media hullabaloo, our data suggests it is already causing some customers to hold off on an immediate Mac purchase.

This trend may also help explain Apple's enormous secrecy to date regarding the Mac Tablet.

No one can say for sure, but the fact that they haven't confirmed the product even exists yet suggests there are good reasons why they've kept mum – and undoubtedly among them is to keep planned Mac buyers from delaying their purchases to wait for the 'iSlate' release.

If and when the 'iSlate' becomes available, however, our survey suggests Apple purchases will surge. And we note that planned Apple computer purchases for the next 90 days are already up 2-pts each for both laptops and desktops in our January survey.

We will take another look at consumer demand for the Mac Tablet – along with a close-up look at its impact on Amazon and the e-reader/ e-book market – in a follow-up survey the week immediately following Apple's January 27th announcement.

Number One In Customer Satisfaction. Regardless of the 'iSlate', Apple's number one ace in the hole remains its extraordinary customer satisfaction rating for its Mac computers. As the following chart shows, Apple Macs continue to receive the highest Very Satisfied rating in the industry.

Andy Golub co-wrote this article.

Disclosure: No Positions