Air

Mac zigs while the PC market zags

January 14, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

Our survey of analysts suggests that Apple is set to report its first 4 million Mac quarter

Click to enlarge. Source: Company reports, Q1 2011 consensus

In the Gartner report issued this week, U.S. sales of Apple's (AAPL) Macintosh computers grew 23% year over year last quarter while overall PC sales (even including the Mac) fell 6.6%.

That's been the story for much of 2010: PC sales weak, Macintosh sales strong.

But the Mac has been on its own trajectory for some time, boosted by a steady flow of refreshed products -- iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air -- and by the magnetic pull of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, which keep drawing new customers into the Apple Store.

Whether that trajectory slowed or accelerated in the Christmas quarter -- usually Apple's strongest -- is one of the questions that will be answered definitively next Tuesday, when the company reports its fiscal Q1 2011 earnings.

Meanwhile, we've polled three dozen analysts for their Mac unit sales predictions. The average of their estimates -- 4.15 million, posted in the chart above -- would represent a slight diminution in the Mac's sales growth.

But there was, as usual, a sizable gap between the most optimistic estimate (4.49 million by Apple Finance Board's Alexis Cabot) and the most pessimistic (3.6 million from UBS's Maynard Um).

Below: The numbers we've gathered so far. The Deagol rating in the fourth column is a measure of each analysts accuracy over the past two or three quarters, with 1 the highest and 30 the lowest. (See here for an explanation for how it was derived.)

Further below, a chart of the breakdown between desktop and laptop unit sales over the past three years. You can see at a glance how important to Apple the MacBook line has become.

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