Are iPads really cannibalizing Mac sales?

Are iPads really cannibalizing Mac sales?

Summary: Pundits and analysts alike are disappointed with Apple Mac sales, claiming that iOS devices are cannibalizing the company's sales of notebooks and desktops. But how bad were last quarter's sales? Should Apple be worried?


Apple released its earnings report for the first quarter of 2013 last week, and while the iPhone and iPad saw serious growth, Mac sales were down 1.1 million from the year-ago quarter. Given that Apple had refreshed its Mac line-up before entering the quarter, this drop has given rise to speculation that Apple's own success with iOS devices is cannibalizing sales of Mac desktop and notebooks.

But do the numbers support this theory? Let's take a look.

Apple sold 4.1 million Macs during the last quarter, while during the year-ago quarter it had managed to shift 5.2 million. So, the meteoric rise in iOS device sales, especially iPads, is cannibalizing sales. Case closed.

Not so fast there. There are several factors that are worth taking into consideration before jumping to such dramatic conclusions.

Firstly, let's put the Q1 2013 sales into perspective. While sales were disappointing compared to Q1 2012, the sales still beat both the second and third quarters of 2012. Overall, it was still a very good quarter for Mac sales.

28-01-2013 12-35-50
Data source: Apple. (Image credit: ZDNet)

Also, take a look at Mac sales over past quarters. They've been hovering around the four million mark for about two and a half years. There have been peaks and troughs, but the overall trendline has stuck pretty close to the four million mark.

The quarter did fall a little below average—a couple of hundred thousand based on the last two years worth of sales—but Mac sales are historically erratic. Mac sales over the holidays are usually stronger than previous quarters, so in that respect the last quarter was an outlier, but again, anything over four million Mac sales is strong.

Another factor to consider is that while Apple did announce a refresh the Mac line-up in October, the new 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs didn't go on sale until the last day of November. Since Q1 2013 ended December 29, this didn't leave a lot of time for sales, and it is likely that this put a serious crimp in sales as the more tech savvy potential customers waited for the new hardware rather than buy the older model Macs.

Bottom line, it wasn't a record quarter for Mac sales, but it wasn’t terrible either.

We need a few more quarters of data before we can say that Macs are suffering the same problem as that being faced by the PC industry. And either way, if people are buying iPads in preference to Macs, it's still cash for Apple, and the company is still clearly doing very well.

Topic: Apple

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  • tablets are replacing desktops

    for a lot of people who primarily use computers as a communication and entertainment device. Most families still have a traditional desktop or laptop in the home, but many are choosing tablets over additional computers as a way for family members to get online.

    Apple created the tablet market but it may come to regret that decision. The problem for Apple, is that there are many alternatives to the iPad that are growing in popularity. So while sales of iPads may cost Apple some Mac sales, the bigger problem for Apple is losing the market lock in that iPad had for the first couple of years.
    • There's not much "entertaining" value on a 10' screen

      A 25' desktop easily out-entertains a tablet. Big screen matters, and you need desktops to power them.
      • 60 inch with iPad

        You can easily airplay stuff from your iPad to your Apple TV and then have 60 inch or more.
  • Its not iPad

    It's Windows 8 and tablets (Including Surface brand) that Apple should be worried about. With Win 8's excellent touch support and devices of varing sizes, IMac and iPads will be squeezed out of the market.
    • Oh!!!

      I thought it was Google paying you, I believe Apple also :).

      I'm with you, iPads are going to be erased out of the planet with surface :D

      More seriously, it's obvious that tablets are replacing PCs - from Apple or any other vendor. There were a few factors against Mac sales but those don't make numbers look good.
    • Look, I don't like apple, nor do I own a Mac

      But when's the last time you've seen anyone say, "OMG, I want that new Window device?!"

      Microsoft doesn't have a positive brand recognition (due to people blaming the OS, not the bad hardware they bought).

      Though, I do hope people get over that, and that OEM's get there shit in order and start making better products so that, that negative correlation doesn't happen at all.
      • bad hardware

        "due to people blaming the OS, not the bad hardware they bought"

        This is precisely why Microsoft is entering the hardware game with the Surface.

        Seems someone at Microsoft finally got fed up with the OEMs making crappy bland PCs that are ruining the Windows experience. The question is, is it too late already?
      • while sometimes hardware is bad

        It is not rare to have Windows behave poorly. This is immediately evident, when you wipe Windows from an "slow" computer and install any other OS. The computer suddenly becomes responsive and usable.

        What is worse, Windows suffers by the pathetic efforts by Microsoft to convince everybody that they have any clue in software design, or API design, or OS design. Everyone knows that software can and is buggy. But it is much easier to fix buggy software than to fix buggy hardware -- and for so many years, Microsoft has done very little to improve their software quality. Don't shoot the messenger -- this one has traveled in many different lands and has seen what not.
        • .

          "This is immediately evident, when you wipe Windows from an "slow" computer and install any other OS."

          I would attribute this to OEM bloatware that comes with every low-end consumer PC. Reinstalling Windows from scratch (especially Windows 7 and 8) would improve performance just as much as installing, say, Ubuntu on it.
        • Windows get old with time :)

          Unlike good wine, it becomes a mess and not better. If you replace it with the same version of windows you will feel it much faster too, you don't need linux.
        • Very True

          Any windows installation periodically needs a reinstall every 2-3 years, irregardless of bloatware.
      • Microsoft is/was never known ...

        ... for doing technical master pieces. Hardware makers have work to do, MS also.
        I guess it's not easy to convince people to pay a lot for a windows machine.
    • Apple should be worried about Windows 8?

      Apple has never been worried about Windows in the past - they have always done their own thing, and I think eve though Steve Jobs is gone, that will continue.
      And Windows 8? All I can say is - I'm not worried on Apple's behalf. What a joke that is.
      • They won't get past the 5%

        Because their devices are sold at rip-off prices and its hard to upgrade. It may look shiny but lacks substance. Ipads will be throws out of enterprise and replaced by Surface-class tablets. In my opinion that is a big reason for money
        • Who cares what their market share is? Marketshare

          doesn't pay the bills.
          • Apple cares....VERY MUCH.

            I assure you, that , in every single meeting at Apple, market share is discussed with great concern.

            Apple is facing a very serious market share issue, right now. They started out owning the tablet market, so they could charge a premium. That's was great, but they failed to remain flexible on pricing, and now, the likes of Samsung are eating into that market in a big way. They also failed to remain flexible on the 7" form factor. They were arrogant, proclaiming that the 7" was "dead on arrival", so they squandered lots of market share in that area.

            When iPad /iPhone revenue drops due to loss of market share, there will be less money in the coffers for R&D and marketing, which means less product development...which translates into being less competitive...which means lower revenue. It's a vicious circle.

            And don't think that it can't happen to Apple, because it has happened to many big, successfull companies all over the world.

            Look at General Motors...they were the king of automakers once, but they got lazy and came within a hair's breadth of disappearing.
    • Right, right...

      Why should Apple worry about the MS tablets? The only one that has a chance of running the "full Windows experience" is the Surface Pro which at it's lowest price is priced higher than the highest priced iPad and priced more than most laptops and desktops that run Windows. Apple would only have to worry if Microsoft priced the Surface Pro around the same price or lower than the iPads.
  • Apple lost like MILLION of desktop sales, because they made it paralyzed

    They announced new desktop line up for like months before start of the sales, and even then they would not deliver. New iMacs are made on totally new, different technologic process lines and equipment.
    • I thought apple never did this?

      "They announced new desktop line up for like months before start of the sales"

      We keep being told that it is terrible for companies to announce hardware months before the start of sales and that apple never does this and that is why apple is great. When apple announces a product, it is available for sale within hours of the announcement.

      Huh, I guess apple fanboys were lying.