A Loose Theory on the Continuing Cooling of iPad Sales

Marco Arment:

The quarterly results are in and Apple’s doing fine overall, but the iPad really isn’t, with another year-over-year decrease in sales.

Apple and commentators can keep saying the iPad is “the future of computing,” and it might still be. But we’re starting its seventh year in a few months, and sales peaked three years ago.

What if the iPad isn’t the future of computing?

What if, like so much in technology, it’s mostly just additive, rather than largely replacing PCs and Macs, and furthermore had a cooling-fad effect as initial enthusiasm wore off and customers came to this conclusion?

This is my loose theory on iPad sales:

The peak years (2013 and 2014) were inflated because it was an untapped market. Steve Jobs was right, there was room for a new device in between a phone and a laptop, and the iPad was and remains an excellent product in that space. But people don’t need to keep buying new iPads. I think the replacement cycle is clearly much more like that of laptops than that of phones. This was not obvious to me at the time, but it seems obvious now.

In short, in 2013 and 2014, there were a lot of people who wanted an iPad who didn’t own anything like an iPad. There aren’t as many people in the market for iPads today. For one thing, many of them already own an iPad that continues to satisfy their needs for the role it plays in their life.

The other factor is that the conceptual space between phones and laptops has shrunk. iPhones have gotten a lot bigger, and MacBooks have gotten thinner and lighter. With bigger iPhones and super-thin MacBooks, the iPad stands out less. That trend isn’t going to reverse.

And let’s put iPad sales in context: they’re shrinking, they’re less than one-fifth those of the iPhone, but they’re still 2.5 times the unit sales of the Mac.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017