The Post-PC Blues

Tim Cook, in his own words, on why the iPad has a bright future

Apple’s iPad business was the lone drag in its otherwise strong earnings report today. iPad sales last quarter dropped 13% from the previous year, to 12.3 million, their third straight quarter of decline. The iPad, which once looked like it could become an iPhone-sized pillar for Apple, represented just 13% of the company’s sales last quarter.

Apple quarterly iPad shipments chart

But Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to make an upbeat case for the iPad. It was Cook who predicted three years ago that the tablet market would be bigger than the PC industry—a macro trend that, last we checked, is still on track. “I know there’s a lot of negative commentary in the markets on this, but I have a little different perspective on it,” Cook said on today’s Apple earnings call.

Here are a few of his remarks:

Still a great start: “Instead of looking at this thing each 90 days, if you back up and look at it, we’ve sold 237 million in just over four years. That’s about twice the number of iPhones that we sold over the first four years of iPhone.”

Flattish, not down: “If you look at the last 12 months of iPad, we sold 68 million, and in fiscal year [2013], we sold 71. So we were down, but we were down 4% on sell-in and the sell-through was a bit better than the -4, because we took down channel inventory some. I view it as a speed bump, not a huge issue. That said, we want to grow. We don’t like negative numbers on these things.”

Apple iPad shipment growth

Market saturation: “The last market research data is in the June quarter. If you look at our top six revenue countries, in the country that sold the lowest percentage of iPads to people who had never bought an iPad before, that number is 50%. And the range goes from 50% to over 70%. And so when I look at first-time buyer rates in that area, that’s not a saturated market.”

Slower-than-anticipated replacement cycles: “What you do see is that people hold onto their iPads longer than they do a phone. And because we’ve only been in this business four years, we don’t really know what the upgrade cycle will be for people. So that’s a difficult thing to call.”

Potential for more sales to corporations: “We also know that the deeper the apps go in the enterprise, the more it opens up avenues in enterprise. That’s a key part of the IBM partnership and what I think customers will get out of that.”

Cannibalization from the Mac and iPhone: “I’m sure that some people looked at a Mac and an iPad and decided on a Mac. I don’t have research to demonstrate that, but I’m sure of that just looking at the numbers. And I’m fine with that, by the way. I’m sure that some people will look at an iPad and an iPhone and decide just to get an iPhone. And I’m fine with that, as well.”

Strong sales in emerging markets: “If you look at how we did in emerging markets, like BRIC countries as an example, we were up 20% for the full-year of [fiscal 2014].”

The big picture: “Over the long arc of time, my own judgment is that iPad has a great future. How the individual 90-day clicks work out, I don’t know. But I’m very bullish on where we can take iPad over time.”

In conclusion: “That’s long answer to your question, but I thought it was important for you to at least hear my perspective. And you can judge it as you will.”

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