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Back-to-school Mac, iPad sales strong as non-Apple tablets struggle

Back-to-school sales have been particularly strong for Apple this year, with both the Mac and iPad proving popular, while non-Apple tablets have failed to gain traction with education buyers.

Analyst Maynard Um with UBS Investment Research recently conducted checks in the retail channel, and found that overall demand for back-to-school PC sales has been "encouraging." Specifically highlighted as one of the big winners in education purchases was Apple.

In addition to strong Mac sales, Apple's iPad has also been a popular choice for students and faculty. Apple's market domination means that sales of rival devices are struggling, Um said.

"Non-iPad tablet sales appear to continue to lag based on our checks," he wrote in a note to investors on Tuesday. "Perhaps as evidence of this, a number of vendors have reduced price — HP Touchpad & Viewsonic G-Tablet dropped by $100, Acer Iconia Tab A500 by $50 at Best Buy & Wal-Mart, & the Vizio 8 inch tablet by $50 at Wal-Mart."

Among non-iPad tablets, the most popular options appear to be the Asus Transformer and Toshiba Thrive, which have been actively promoted in circular advertisements. But even for those devices it isn't close, as Um said the iPad is still dominating in sales, based on his checks.

Apple's Mac lineup has also apparently been a strong performer in back-to-school sales. The company kicked off its annual education promotion in June, and this year offers customers a $100 App Store gift card with the purchase of a new Mac.

"Demand for Apple's Mac computers remains robust as the brand continues to be the most popular among consumers and students heading back to school," Um said, "which is consistent with historical trends of Apple outpacing the overall PC industry growth."

Right in the midst of the back-to-school buying season, Apple also launched a refreshed lineup of its popular thin-and-light MacBook Airs. The new 11- and 13-inch models include Intel's latest Sandy Bridge processors, the new high-speed Thunderbolt port, and backlit keyboards.

Other winners in the PC industry, Um found, have been Dell and Lenovo, which are among the most preferred brands for consumers. Singled out as the least preferred options were Acer and Compal Electronics.

"While consumer desktop demand generally appears to still be weak, consumers seem to have returned to purchase notebooks for students heading back to school," Um wrote. "We believe this could serve as a modest bump for the PC industry as expectations for demand on the consumer side are currently very low."