I’ll be home (or at the Apple Store) for Christmas

David Braue
12 December, 2008
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It never ceases to amaze me how, despite all the stories of economic trials and travail, we still find money for our gadgets.

Consider the recent revelation that Nintendo sold over 2 million Wii units in November alone – beating analyst expectations by more than 600,000 units and trouncing previous game-hardware champion the handheld Nintendo DS.

More significantly, Nintendo sold just 981,000 Wiis in November 2007. You remember November 2007, right? When we had a different prime minister, petrol was around $1.60 a litre, interest rates were going up, and the Global Financial Crisis was still a twinkle in Wall Street’s eye?

Given the massive global economic change since then, it’s astounding to see such a massive uptick in sales of a two-year-old product, much less to see games – the purchase of which would theoretically be less of a financial priority for economically distressed people than, say, the mortgage – riding from strength to strength through what is now being described as the beginnings of a recession.

Consider, then, the potential uptick for Apple, which has only recently begun attacking the games market with any kind of real marketing schtick, riding the back of its iPhone and iPod touch to bust into a new market with a roar.

With plenty of excellent free and ringtone-priced games available for the two handhelds, both provide great options for game-hungry Christmas shoppers. This is particularly significant for Apple, which has long fought perceptions that its products are expensive and now has a way to drip-feed games to customers at pocket-change prices (with the added incentive of 25% or 30% off when iTunes cards are bought during occasional sales at the likes of Safeway and Target).

The market, it appears, is ready to embrace Apple with open arms – and wallets. Apart from Apple’s stellar third-quarter results, we now hear that Apple’s US online site was the fifth most visited retail site on Cyber Monday, America’s traditionally tech-heavy late-November shopping day.

That’s not just comparing Apple to other vendors, where a fifth-place finish would mirror its computer market share. Indeed, Apple’s 3.6 million unique visitors ranks it behind behemoths like eBay (12.9 million), Amazon (9.2 million), Wal-Mart (6.7 million) and Target (4.8 million), all of which play across a whole range of retail categories.

In other words, for that day Apple was the fifth-largest e-tailer in America, period. Now, analysts say Apple’s focus on design and quality could pay off even bigger, helping our favourite tech innovator to massive revenues during this Christmas.

It can’t hurt that the Rudd Government recently dropped a nice $1000 cheque in many of our mailboxes to keep the economy purring along. Forget the controversial ‘Plasma Bonus’ – the ever-growing Baby Bonus payment that was in many cases spent on high-tech gear rather than diapers – the government has just given each Australian enough cash to buy 15 iPod shuffles, five iPod nanos, three iPod touches or Apple TVs, one Mac mini, two-thirds of a MacBook, and maybe a partridge in a pear tree with the leftover change.

While Mac purists whinge about the Mac mini’s overlong refresh cycle and the lack of a netbook in the lineup, we ignore a very, very significant point: Apple has become a bellwether of not just the tech economy, but the general economy. Its products are a shining beacon in a sea of uncertainty or unrest: years of financial irresponsibility may have left us unemployed and broke, but dammit, we will still have our music – and go out smiling.

Or, at least, with white headphone buds in our ears. Because everybody, everybody, everybody loves music – a fact that has helped Apple make itself relevant to the general public in a way that HP, Dell, Acer, ASUS, and myriad other PC vendors just have not been able to do.

The beauty of Apple’s product line is that it has diversified enough that even its lowest-priced, highest-volume products appeal to people who might never otherwise buy a computer. And, of course, the iPod is a natural upsell opportunity for Apple to reel in those who have been really starting to think different in buying their new computer.

After all, who hasn’t bought an iPod for themselves or their loved ones lately? They even fit nicely in a stocking so you don’t have to spend extra on wrapping paper. Heck, after playing with an iPod touch for some weeks recently, it is on the top of my Christmas list. Hmmmm. Now, does anybody have Santa’s email address?

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