Are iPads really cannibalizing Mac sales?

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?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

Editorial standards