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Vista and Mac OS X: Will Apple’s Sales Dip?

I have to tell you that maybe I shouldn’t be so down on tech pundits and analysts when they make their proclamations about one thing or another. Sometimes they’re even right, and I’m sure that their jobs are incredibly difficult. After all, they have to predict the future and not embarrass themselves.

So let’s take a set of facts and see where they take us. First off, according to a published report quoting analyst Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, sales of Vista upgrades haven’t done quite as well as expected. No surprise here, because it was already widely reported that people weren’t exactly lining up to purchase their upgrades on the evening of Vista’s release.

According to Piper Jaffray’s survey of 50 Best Buy ele ctronics stores, it appears that buyers would rather buy a new PC that’s already preloaded with Vista. Considering the upgrade hassles that have traditionally accompanied a Windows upgrade process, this makes a lot of sense. Besides, the new PC will at least be certified for Vista, which you can’t say about millions upon millions of recent PCs that their owners are still paying for.

At the same time, Munster is quoted as speculating that the pent-up demand for a Vista PC will have a slightly negative impact on Mac sales, reducing worldwide share from 2.5 percent to 2.3 percent somewhere in the second quarter of the year.

According to Munster’s analysis: “Due to pent-up demand for PCs with Vista preinstalled, we anticipate a spike in PC sales during the Mar-07 quarter, which could put downward pressure on Mac market share.”

What he’s suggesting is that folks who may have otherwise gone to the Mac will stop in their tracks and settle on Microsoft’s operating system instead. That statement can have few other meanings that I can see. The impact is supposed to be slight, although, with such a low market share to begin with, even a couple of tenths of a percent are quite significant.

The key here, of course, is buyer attitudes and plans. In addition, how many sales of a PC is a loss for Apple — or does it even make a difference? Yes, Vista will reach the consumer and content creation market, just as Apple does. At the same time, are Vista’s features, particularly the ones that mimic Mac OS X, such as the enhanced desktop eye-candy and search schemes, sufficient to curtail some switchers from jumping to a new platform?

That’s a really good question. and, as usual with an industry analyst, Munster tries to hedge his bets, stating, “We also believe that widespread computer upgrades could lead consumers to evaluate their options, which may allow Apple to sway buyers toward the Mac platform.”

So is it one or the other, or a combination of both, with Windows gaining just a bit on Apple because so many people have been aching for Vista for all these years and are sufficiently content with the PC to stay with the platform?

The problem with all these analyses is that they have few facts to go on. They take what surveys they can and hope they can project them to the population as a whole. The problem here is that is a lot of information they just cannot get. Nobody at an Apple Store will dare tell them a thing, lest they face the immediate loss of their jobs if Apple finds out. And, beyond the small amount of data from a quarterly report and analyst meeting, it’s extremely difficult to put together a meaningful set of trends.

And that’s where these predictions are bound to fail. Without that key chunk of data from Apple and its own retail outlets, where 50% of the purchases of new Macs go to people who are new to the platform, the surveys from Piper Jaffrey and other companies are deficient. No, make that almost meaningless.

Now it may well be true that Vista will help Microsoft hold onto some market share it would have otherwise lost. Or maybe, if tepid sales of upgrade kits is any indication, people really don’t care all that much about Vista. They’ll buy a PC with Vista if one was already in their sights, but how many will decide they must have Vista and make a purchase that would not otherwise have been made — or gone to the Mac?

Of course, none of this should dissuade Apple from bombarding the public with those sly Mac Versus PC commercials, which put an honest perspective on what Vista might inflict upon the end user. They definitely cannot let down their guard now, no matter how it all plays out.