TMO Reports: ChangeWave: PC Demand Down, Mac Laptops Up, Mac Desktops Down

Plans to buy computers during the next 90 days have dipped, according to a February consumer survey by ChangeWave Research. The firm said that 10% of those surveyed said they planned on buying a computer during the next 90 days, down from 11% in January. Of that 10%, 30% planned on buying an Apple laptop, up from 27% in January, while 26% planned on buying a Mac desktop, down from 28% in January.

ChangeWave surveyed 3,115 U.S. consumers from February 2nd to February 9th in its survey. The survey measured consumer plans for spending, investing, and saving, and found that overall plans for spending are down, a reflection of the current global economic crisis.

General Computer Buying Plans

The firm said that plans for buying computers, consumer electronics, and other market sectors was the lowest since it started doing these surveys nine years ago. For a more recent comparison, surveys going back to January of 2008 have shown a steady demand for computers at 14% combined laptop and desktop planned purchases.

ChangeWave PC Chart
ChangeWave's Consumer Purchasing Chart from January of 2007 to February of 2009

Mac Buying Plans

The survey found a net increase in plans to buy Macs from January, plans that still show Apple with an increase in mindshare when compared to surveys before June of 2007. However, those numbers, 30% with plans to buy Apple laptops and 26% with plans to buy an Apple desktop, are down from their best month of August 2008, when 34% of respondents planned on buying an Apple laptop, while 30% planned on buying a Mac desktop at that time.

ChangeWave Apple Chart
ChangeWave's Chart for Apple Computer Purchasing Plans from January of 2006 to February of 2009

We should emphasize that the Apple-specific numbers are a percentage of those intending to buy any type of computer. In other words, Apple's numbers -- up from January, down from the Fall of 2008, up from early 2007 surveys -- are still relative to all PC manufacturers, and all those manufacturers are fighting for a smaller pie.

The survey also found that 18% of those respondents planning on buying a computer plan on buying a netbook, a four point increase from January's survey. At that time, Paul Carton, Director of Research for ChangeWave, characterized this trend as "not good news for Apple." Today's survey, however found that, "some Apple users consider the iPhone to be a form of Netbook."

Balancing Plans with Reality

We also asked Mr. Carton about the discrepancy between planned purchases and actual purchases. For instance, in August of 2008, 24% of those surveyed said they bought an Apple laptop in the previous 90 days, while 19% said they planned on buying an Apple desktop. Looking back to July of 2007, however, we see that 32% of respondents planned on buying an Apple laptop, with 27% planning on buying an Apple desktop.

Looking at HP's figures, though, we see the reverse. In August of 2007, 25% of consumers who bought a computer said they bought an HP laptop, and 24% said they purchased an HP desktop. In July of 2007, only 24% of those planning on buying a computer bought an HP laptop, while only 20% said they planned on buying an HP desktop, lower percentages than actually bought a computer.

[Editor's note: We compared planned purchases for July to actual purchases in August to offer some overlap and context.]

The answer, according to Mr. Carton, is that people are optimists. Lots of people want a Mac, but the price premium keeps them from actually "pulling the trigger" when it comes time to actually buy one. For many of them, that means they buy a Dell, an HP, or one of the other PC brands instead of the Mac.

"You have a certain percentage that really wants a Mac," he told The Mac Observer in an interview. "But the act of going into an Apple Store and pulling the trigger, because of the increased price of the Mac, just makes it that little much harder."

He stressed that unlike the specific survey results, which are based on the raw numbers of the survey, that his conclusion is an inference, an interpretation of the data, and not simply raw data.