Friday, August 21, 2009

College students not buying Apple computers - A blip on the radar, or something more significant?

The Los Angeles Times ran this story:

Now students may be taking a page out of the business traveler's handbook, according to a survey of 300 Americans released this morning by Retrevo, a technology review website based in Sunnyvale, Calif. A third of those polled said they planned to buy a netbook for school. About half said they would buy a desktop. A majority of students said they would not be buying a Mac.

“While Apple has done well historically in the education market, 2009 marks the dawn of the netbook,” says Vipin Jain, Retrevo's chief executive. “Students told us they wanted longer battery life, smaller size and a lighter laptop."

More than half of those polled, 58%, said they planned to spend less than $750 on their computer, while 18% had a budget over $1,000. Apple laptops start at $949.

Now perhaps this is a non-story, which may especially be true since surveys from prior years weren't cited. But I see two potentially significant things here.

First, this indicates that Apple does not have the education mindshare. Apple's strategy used to be to get their products into the schools, and then into the colleges, so that when students graduated, they'd naturally gravitate toward something with which they were already familiar. But if students are truly price-sensitive, and if their university hasn't swung a discount deal with Apple, then the majority of students aren't even considering Apple in their equations.

The second issue relates to the students' potential acceptance of netbooks. This is significant because Apple, to date, has officially pooh-poohed the whole netbook idea. Tim Cook in April:

“For us, it’s about doing great products. When I look at netbooks, I see cracked keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens. It’s just not a good consumer experience and not something we would put the Mac brand on. It’s a segment we would not choose to play in.”

Now speculation is running rampant that Apple actually WILL release some type of lower-priced computer later this year. But would Apple be able to release something at a low enough price point to entice those $750 college students to buy it? Or will Apple instead declare that an iPod Touch is better than a netbook?
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