Why Apple doesn’t care that iPads are cannibalizing sales of Macs

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Perhaps the biggest surprise in today’s earnings report from Apple was that Mac sales are down 21% year-over-year, a much steeper decline than overall PC shipments, which were down about 6% worlwide. On Apple’s conference call, CEO Tim Cook blamed this decline on a number of factors, including supply chain problems and a shorter quarter.

But Cook also said that he was “sure” that some of the weakness in Mac sales is due to the success of the iPad. And he called this cannibalization a “huge opportunity” for Apple.

“I’ve said for the past three years that I believe the tablet market will be larger than the PC market at some point,” said Cook, echoing Steve Jobs’ assertion that some day PCs will be like trucks: Only some people will need them, and only for heavy-duty tasks.

“Our base philosophy is to never fear cannibalization,” Cook added. “If we do, somebody else will just cannibalize it.”

The overall PC market is much larger than the market for either Macs or iPads, so if Cook is right, there is tremendous opportunity for Apple to grow both market share and revenue as consumers ditch PCs for tablets. But that also means that Apple’s real competition is no longer other PC manufacturers but makers of tablets, particularly Samsung and Google.

Read the rest of our coverage from Apple’s first quarter earnings report:

Apple’s $54.5 billion quarter, in charts

Apple CEO Tim Cook on rumors of slackening iPhone demand: They’re meaningless

No phablet for you, says Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple plans to give a third of its $137 billion cash hoard back to investors

The four questions everyone is hoping Apple will answer today

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