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Monday, December 11, 2006, 07:05 am PT (10:05 am ET)

Apple's number of 'new-to-Mac' buyers growing

A recent survey of twenty Apple Specialist retailers shows that approximately 25 percent of customers buying Macs are new to the platform and that the figure is likely to keep rising due to the iPod "halo effect" and Apple's Boot Camp software.

The survey, conducted by PiperJaffray analyst Gene Munster, also found that the majority of the value added resellers (VARs) are expecting to sell more Macs during the current quarter than they did during the three-mond period ending late September.

Although Apple has stated in recent quarterly conference calls that over 50 percent of Mac buyers at its own retail chain are new to the Mac, the analyst pointed out that Apple Specialist stores "have a lower new-to-Mac average given they typically serve more of the professional users and existing Mac faithful customer base."

"We see, therefore, the 25 percent new-to-Mac number at these stores as a fairly high number," he told clients in a summary of his survey findings on Monday.

Munster also reported that 60 percent of the 20 Apple Specialists indicated that they expect Mac sales in the December quarter to be up from those during the September quarter. Only 10 percent of the retailers were anticipating a drop-off in sales, while the remaining 30 percent said they expect sales to be flat sequentially.

"Not surprisingly, the iMac and Macbook were mentioned most often (mentioned by 70 percent and 65 percent, respectively) as the best selling Macs so far this quarter," the analyst wrote.

In his own model, Munster has been anticipating a 1 percent decline in Mac sales for the December quarter. However, he notes that a 5 percent increase in Mac shipments would add approximately $0.03 to $0.04 to his $0.73 earnings-per-share estimate for the quarter.

Meanwhile, the analyst said his survey of the Apple Specialists turned up "decent" supply of iPods and "good" supply of Macs.

"Apple's VARs indicated that iPod supply has been somewhat patchy in the Dec-06 quarter, while Mac supply has been very solid," he wrote. "Specifically, 75 percent of specialist stores said that they have had good supply of iPods, while 95 percent said they have had good supply of Macs in the quarter."

Those resellers that were missing iPods were typically missing the iPod shuffle or the iPod nano, Munster said. While the new iPod shuffle has been scarce over the last several weeks, he said 85 percent of the Specialist stores said they now have the player in stock.

PiperJaffray maintains an "Outperform" rating on shares of Apple with a price target of $99.