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Apple's iMac continued to wow the crowds in the US during the last three months of 1998. But while the statistics are good news for Apple, they do suggest it needs to work harder in the retail sector. The first set of figures, from PC Data, showed the iMac outselling other consumer computers for the quarter. The iMac accounted for 6.2 per cent of all unit sales in the fourth quarter, as well as 7.2 per cent of the dollar volume, the company said. However, ZD Market Intelligence's data put the machine in fourth place, behind three versions of Compaq's Presario, the 333MHz Celeron-equipped 5050, the 5150 (based on a 350MHz AMD K6-2) and the 350MHz PII-based 5170. In fact, both companies' research isn't all that far out of alignment. According to PC Data's figures for December 1998 alone, the latter two of the three Presarios pushed the iMac into the number three slot. It's notable that neither the 5170 or the 5150 are especially cheaper than the iMac, but do offer rather more in the way of add-ons -- both offer far more memory (128MB and 96MB compared to the iMac's 32MB), disk space (8GB and 9GB compared to 4GB), faster CD-ROM drives (32x compared to 24x) and bundle a Zip drive. That suggests that while consumers have in past chosen design over features, they may be less keen to do so now. Still, the fact that a 266MHz machine can outsell a 350MHz machine at a lower price (until December, at any road), suggests Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs had a point when he said consumers were more interested in looks than megabytes and megahertz. The difference between both sets of data relates to the range of outlets they measure. While both companies poll sales in computer and office superstores, consumer electronics retailers and other PC retailers, PC Data also measures sales through mail order and online outlets. Of course, since these two sets of figures were calculated, Apple not only made price cuts and upped the specification of the iMac (but not, by any means, as far as the Presarios and other machines featuring on both PC Data and ZDMI's lists) but introduced the machine in five more colours. With the original iMac's sales tailing off by the end of the last calendar quarter, it will in interesting to see whether these gimmicks can push it back to number one. ®

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