Tiger, Mini to Drive Mac Sales Higher

Merrill Lynch on Monday called Apple's PC outlook "rosier" and said it expects the company to achieve a 4 percent market share during the year. Leading the way is Apple's Mac Mini, which the research firm believes will appeal to first time Mac buyers as an attractive entry point to Apple's platform.

"We expect new Mac users will decide on lower cost desktops than notebooks as Apple attempts to convert Windows users," Merrill Lynch said in a note to clients. "The new desktop weapon is the Mac mini, which provides a new low price point for the Mac line. The Mac mini takes the line to a new price point, which should be attractive to switchers and education."

Apple's efforts to make the Mini more available in retail locations other than company channels will give it more visibility and spur growth in its PC division, the research firm wrote.

Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger," Apple's newest operating system, is also expected help to drive sales. Merill Lynch cited the "halo effect" surrounding the iPod plus features within Tiger as reasons a Macintosh may become more desirable to consumers.

While not mentioned by Merill Lynch, several analysts have said that continued delays in Microsoft's next-generation operating system, code-named Longhorn, could also help Apple's bottom line as computer users look for more advanced features, some of which are already present in Mac OS X.

Tiger also appears to be a hit among current Mac users. Sales of the new operating system are expected to be nearly 50 percent higher than that of Mac OS X 10.3, coming at about $84 to $100 million. "There was a line of 100 Apple addicts at the store we visited," Merill Lynch said.

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