Apple Conference Call: Yes on “Pro,” Cannibalizing iPods, No on Netbooks

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Peter Oppenheimer and Tim Cook hosted Apple’s third-quarter fiscal 2009 conference call, the “best non-holiday quarter ever” for revenue, and the second-best quarter for Mac sales.

For investors, if you didn’t suffer through the conference call, transcripts will appear sooner or later, but within the dry financial data there were few interesting facts for consumers. I counted three.

Slapping the “Pro” moniker on the 13″ unibody MacBook was a brilliant idea.

While no figures were released, portable sales saw a 13 percent increase year-over-year, and an “acceleration of sales” after the new laptops launched at WWDC. The response to the 13″ MacBook Pro has been “very favorable.” The point was made that previously you had to pay $2,000 for a pro laptop, but now pro machines start at only $1,200. Before the transition, the white MacBook was the leader in consumer sales, but now the 13″ MacBook Pro is selling fast enough to constrain supply.

Apple is OK with declining sales of “traditional” iPods.

The company is “cannibalizing” itself — surely there is a better metaphor — by upselling consumers from Shuffles, nanos, and Classics to the iPod touch and iPhone, though how that would account for an overall decline in iPod sales of 7 percent year-over-year was not explained. Nonetheless, it was announced that iPod touch sales are up 130 percent year-over-year. Based on a comment about “45 million” iPhone OS 3.0 users, we can subtract 26.38 iPhones sold to date to arrive at some 18.62 million iPod touch users. Clearly the iPod touch is becoming as important to Apple as the iPhone. It wouldn’t be surprising if rumors of a new iPod touch ushered in a segmentation of models and a price drop, like the iPhone 3G and 3GS, probably at an Apple Event in the fall.

Apple still hates netbooks.

Tim Cook deflected a question about a device with a “larger screen where you can do more than on the iPhone” using the same talking points: slow, cramped, small keyboards and displays. While not wanting to “discount anything in the future,” the company does not “see a way to build a great product for this $399, $499 kind of price point.” Apparently people who buy netbooks often become “disenchanted,” and most want “full-featured notebooks.” That may be true, but considering Toshiba and Acer both saw double-digit jumps in market share last quarter, clearly there is strong demand for netbooks.

Let’s hope that if no MacBook mini is on the horizon, there will soon be a fabulous tablet device that will be the subject of next quarter’s conference call.

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