External drives: The hot gift this season?

Maybe there's just something about massive external drives that get geeks into the holiday spirit. Analysts are projecting external hard drives to be the must have gift this Christmas.

Maybe there's just something about massive external drives that get geeks into the holiday spirit. Analysts are projecting external hard drives to be the must have gift this Christmas.

Nearly every company on the planet has some online commerce hook today. Wal-Mart.com has deals aplenty. Keynote is handicapping online retail site performance. Comscore is telling us that Black Friday online retail revenue was up 22 percent from a year ago. Pick a tech company and there's some Black Friday-Cyber Monday hook. We'll avoid the prognostications because it's too early to bother. But it does appear that not all tech gadgets are created equal.

Here's a sampling of key product categories:

Hard drives are the "hot" PC accessory this holiday season. Goldman Sachs' retail checks have found the usual complement of big sellers--notebooks and MP3 players--but hard drives are often riding shotgun with electronics purchases. Apparently, external hard drives are being hawked by salesfolks at Apple stores and other electronic retailers. "Hard drives are the 'hot' PC accessory this holiday season, and Seagate and Western Digital dominate the category," writes Goldman in a research note.

Notebook demand remains strong. Numerous analysts noted that laptop PCs were flying off the shelves. Big winners: Apple and HP.

Anything Apple. Apple is poised to benefit from multiple product cycles--iPod, Mac and iPhone. Macs are expected to do well. From Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore:

Channel checks were carried out at 30+ Apple retail stores in conjunction with a series of online checks (Apple, Amazon and Macmall, Target, Best Buy etc). Apple kicked off the season with discounts of ~10-15% (not pre-announced and on Black Friday only) on shuffles, nanos, classics as well as MacBooks and iMacs while Amazon had weekend discounts of ~14% on the iPod lineup. We found particularly strong demand for the iPod Touch (Adrian Kingsley-Hughes' review), 8GB nano and MacBook and healthy demand across the remaining product portfolio. In addition, there were limited product stock outs suggesting good inventory management despite robust demand throughout the weekend.

Printers are an afterthought according to Goldman. The good news: Discounting isn't aggressive and that adds up to better profit margins for HP.

Smartphone discounts abound, but not for long. Morgan Keegan analyst Tavis McCourt noted that AT&T dropped the price of the BlackBerry Curve to $99 for a limited time on Friday. This discount was among the more aggressive price cuts. AT&T's price drop lasted a couple of hours before the price bounced back to $199. McCourt wrote:

1/3rd of all multimedia handsets on sale at the big 4 US carriers were discounted to some degree for Black Friday. Average pricing for multimedia handsets were down (4.4%) sequentially, and smartphones were down (7.8%) sequentially. We would note that last year, smartphone pricing was down (14%) in the two weeks following Thanksgiving, so discounting appears roughly similar to last year.

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