Apple’s Mac sales shot up 50 per cent year-on-year in April, driving a 46 per cent spike in revenue, according to the NPD Group.

NPD also revealed that – far from slowing down – iPod sales also jumped 15 per cent that month. And Lehman Brothers analyst Ben Reitzes reckons new Mac laptops – equipped with MacBook Air-type touch technology – are on the way. (And maybe more).

"Checks are indicating that the attractive look of the Air may make its way into other models in terms of slimmer, metallic designs. We believe these notebooks will be popular for the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons," the analyst said. Oddly, that’s what we were saying last week…pegging the date as July-ish…(We predicted the iMac intro a month early too, fact fans).

It’s just the latest in a string of industry trend-beating news from Apple Inc. As 9 to 5 Mac reported (before the majority of the Mac web) earlier this week, NPD figures show Apple to be the brand of choice in the high-end laptop market. An astonishing 66 per cent of laptops sold in the US costing $1,000 or more are made by Apple. While Apple’s share falls to just 14 per cent  in the sub-$1,000 bracket, it’s an incredibly significant figure all the same. (And yeah, we know those Windows Fanboys will begin to chunder on about how the only Mac we can buy for under $1,000 is the Mac mini, get over it, those cheap PCs just don’t offer the same degree of utility, usability or features as a Mac, and run a second-rate OS).

Apple’s making market gains through a combination of factors: superior operating system, better-featured and aesthetically-designed Macs, a world-class retail store chain, and the increasingly vapid WIndows market. Apple’s iPod and iPhone have put the corporate brand into consumer minds, meaning that 50 per cent of Macs sold through Apple’s retail stores are going to users new to the platform.

High-tech also counts: I think many experienced industry watchers missed the significance of the MacBook Air when it shipped: but the whole notion of a computer you can put inside an envelope has caught on on the streets, people remember this. Which is why Apple’s recent 10Q noted: “The increases in Mac net sales and unit sales were driven primarily by sales of the new MacBook Air, introduced in January 2008, and higher sales of the iMac and other Mac portable systems.”

Proof of the pudding’s in the eating: Mac unit growth reached 51 per cent and 48 per cent in the second quarter of Q2 and first six months of 2008 respectively – exceeding the industry average.

Apple’s laptop sales climbed 61 per cent, with 2.29 million Macs sold in Q2, 1.433 million of Macs sold were laptops.

Surging Mac sales caused Apple CEO Steve Jobs to reflect last October: “The question is, are we headed for a tipping point, it sometimes feels like that."

IDC claims 23.5 million computers were sold in the first quarter of 2008 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, which is equivalent to 19 per cent sales growth over Q1 2007. Apple’s overall Mac sales in Europe climbed 45 per cent in the March quarter.

And the effect? Apple accounted for 7.58 per cent of all US Internet users in March, up near 15 per cent, year-on-year. And Apple is now the leading supplier of laptops within the US education markets.

So while those inexpensive PCs may dominate the market share numbers, when it comes to users looking to make a serious computing investment in order to actually, you know, do stuff, Apple’s growing share and dominance in the $1,000-plus category promises great things…

….and isn’t the Mac mini due an upgrade soon? With near $20 billion in the bank, is there any real reason now Apple can’t ramp-up its competitiveness at the lower end of the market? (Not one they’ve traditionally played in, I agree).


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