Will Apple's new low-cost products be hits? Here are some early clues.

Peter Burrows

“Eyeballs” are no substitute for real revenues or profits, as countless dot-coms and their investors found out a few years back. But for those wondering whether Apple Computer’s new low-end product thrust is likely to succeed, check out a new study from Hitwise. The firm, which measures online traffic, says that hits on the Apple website and the computer maker's online store reached an all-time weekly high in the week ended Jan. 15. Rather than the typical post-Yuletide drop-off , traffic to Apple was 6% higher than the week of Christmas. What’s more, Hitwise says that a healthy percentage of those visitors arrived via searches related to Apple’s two new low-cost products: the sub-$150 iPod shuffle music player, and the $499 Mac mini.

Apple hasn’t said anything yet about how many of the new products it has sold, but it seems they’re off to a very healthy start. According to notices on the Apple on-line store, it takes two-to-four weeks to get delivery of an iPod shuffle, and three-to-four weeks to get a Mac mini, which doesn’t officially start shipping until Saturday, Jan. 22.

Of course, it could be that this backlog is due to a decision by Apple to limit production on these new products. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has often played it safe in this regard in recent years, in the belief that it’s better to create the illusion of scarcity, rather than incur profit-demolishing inventory gluts. But I wouldn’t count on it. Since iPod sales started going through the roof, he’s been making some very bold bets on the manufacturing front. How else could Apple have shipped 4.5 million iPods in its most recent quarter, which had begun with Wall St. analysts projecting quarterly shipments of just two million or so? So unless the eyeballs deceive me, we could be entering another phase in Apple’s remarkable return to glory.

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