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The Mac Hardware Report: The Result of Microsoft’s Ads?

I notice that Microsoft has yet to change its TV “Laptop Hunter” ads since Apple cut the price of Mac note-books. Not only were those spots misleading before, but they now contain downright lies. Windows fanboys (or fanpersons), of course, might prefer to claim it’s the spirit and not the substance that’s important.

For a while, some felt that perhaps Apple was indeed being impacted by that renewed campaign against the Mac and the perilous state of the economy. According to recent NPD Group surveys, Mac shipments in the U.S. did decline somewhat through the first and second quarters of 2009. There was, however, a short-term jump in March, when the desktop line was refreshed, and a larger one beginning in May that more or less coincided with Apple’s annual back-to-school promotion. The trend continues since June’s Mac note-book price reductions.

According to analyst Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley, “Apple began to outperform the broader commercial PC segment — with commercial Mac shipments up 25% month-over-month in May versus market growth of just 1%.” As AppleInsider notes in its story about her report, Huberty is notorious for underestimating Apple’s sales. Fascinating indeed, because it seems to indicate that even the skeptics are impressed.

I realize some might still suggest that Apple’s sales would be better without the counterarguments from Microsoft, but I’d rather be charitable and suggest that those ad campaigns have had no impact whatever. They’re just fodder for the Fast Forward button on your cable or satellite DVR. Or maybe some felt so disgusted, they went out and bought Macs to express their negative opinions of Microsoft.

If the trend continues, Apple’s summer season will be surprisingly robust, and it augers well for the fall when Apple will likely introduce a new line of iPods and those expected revisions to the iMac and perhaps the Mac mini. At the very least, don’t be surprised if there’s a price cut for the desktop Macs too, although I am not one to predict Apple’s behavior on pricing and other market-based decisions.

Sure, some might claim that Apple was forced to cut prices because of the economy and the renewed interest in the PC, but I see little evidence of that. Apple has traditionally delivered better products for the same price when updating a particular model, which can be interpreted by some as a price cut. Take the iMac, where the basic 20-inch model these days costs $300 less than the equivalent in the previous lineup. While the entry-level price points didn’t change, what you got did.

Also remember that all this success is coming without any indication Apple is prepared to jump into the netbook segment, despite the insistence by media and financial analysts that they’re missing out on a load of potential sales. As Apple has stated over and over again, the best you can say about a netbook is that it’s small and cheap. The keyboard is cramped, the trackpad may be inconvenient, and the general user experience is just not very pleasant. But if you’re on a budget and are willing to put up with some level of discomfort to handle some basic computing chores, a netbook might still make sense.

Sure, I suppose you can even consider the iPhone a sort of netbook after a fashion, although it is generally regarded as a smartphone. So you don’t expect a keyboard scheme that allows for burst typing, although it is quite suitable for short messages and easy navigation among the tons of features the iPhone offers. I wouldn’t even dismiss the possibility that Apple might still be considering a grown-up version with the same operating system, but sporting a larger screen, and perhaps a physical keyboard, or at least a way to hook up one by cable or Bluetooth.

For that to happen, however, Apple will have to be sure that they can sell enough of them to make the investment worthwhile. As soon as they bump the size considerably, the issue of easy transport goes out the window. The iPhone is small enough to carry in a conventional-sized pocket or purse or attached via a clip to your belt. It’s not too small to lose, which you can’t say about the iPod shuffle nowadays.

As soon as you expand the iPhone to the size of perhaps the fabled Apple eMate 300 of the 1990s, you need a carrying case of some sort. It may be less of a weight on your shoulders than a traditional portable computer, but is that interim size going to catch a breeze and generate sufficiently large sales? Understand that Apple isn’t the sort of company to just enter a market segment without careful research and a certainty that it’ll be profitable. They pick and choose their products carefully. As a result, their failures are few.

Indeed, Apple TV may even gain some traction some day, as soon as Apple figures out how to make it pay off.