Thoughts On iPad Sales

I’ve been asked by analysts, industry insiders, and Apple users over the last several financial quarters if I’m worried about Apple’s iPad sales. The simple answer to that question is: no, I’m not.

Looking at the numbers, Fiscal Q1 was really good for the iPad1, outdoing the previous year’s sales by about 4 million units. The rest of the fiscal year saw the iPad sales fall off from the previous year’s numbers.

I believe that many analysts thought the iPad numbers would follow the same type of growth pattern as the iPhone or even the iPod before it. For the most part, that hasn’t happened.


I’ve maintained in all of my conversations about iPad sales that consumers treat the iPad more like a computer and less like the commodity device that sees iPhone sales continue to rise.

I’ve seen many people that were not eligible for an iPhone upgrade spend the full price of an upgrade, just to get the newest version. iPhone has a level of excitement surrounding it that very few other products have. It’s a combination of hardware and a new iOS that piques the interest of millions of users.

So far, with the exception of its initial release, the iPad hasn’t had the same excitement surrounding new versions.

In some situations, the iPad is enough of a computer for many users. Younger kids and seniors are two groups that come to mind right away. These groups would probably not have purchased a traditional computer, but have taken to the iPad for some computer-related tasks, such as Web surfing and email2. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part, that seems to hold true.


The other group of people that purchased the iPad are those that use them to complement their computers and phones, especially when it’s more convenient than using a computer. You can see people in coffee shops, parks, airports, and thousands of other places, using an iPad, everyday.

The great thing for consumers is that the iPad is built so well, people don’t feel the need to upgrade them as often. Apple also ensures the new iOS is compatible with a couple of generations of iPads and developers often do the same with their apps.

When you consider the iPad is either a first device for one segment of the market that isn’t doing high-end computing, or a complement to other devices for another segment, the need to upgrade quickly is low.

People treat their iPad purchases like they treat their computer purchases. They expect these devices to last longer and do more than an iPhone. In a lot of ways, it’s a bizarre thought because of the similarities of the devices, but I believe this is what’s happening.

Simply put, the buying cycle for an iPad is a lot longer than it is for an iPhone.

Of course, with the release of the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple faces another potential problem with the iPad, and that’s cannibalization. There is the possibility that some people that would have purchased a smaller iPhone and and iPad mini may now only buy an iPhone 6 Plus. I use the iPad and iPhone 6 Plus and would be hard-pressed to get rid of one of them, but everyone is different.


However, cannibalization is a problem Apple can deal with—they are still getting the money and the customer, just with a different product. That’s not much of a concern to me.

What would concern me is if consumers were buying a competitor’s product instead of the iPad. That doesn’t appear to be happening. Samsung hasn’t been doing great lately and Amazon doesn’t release any numbers, so we don’t know for sure how they’re doing (although all indications are not as well as Apple).

In fact, when you look at surveys about consumer’s intent to purchase, the iPad leads over the competitors. There seems to be no direct reason, i.e. a trouble with the product, that would tell me there is a problem with the iPad.

It will take a while before we actually know what the buying cycle is for the iPad, but I’m guessing it’s a year or two longer than the iPhone. That is clearly going to affect sales of the tablet, but I still don’t think it’s anything to worry about.

  1. Fiscal Q1 is Apple’s holiday quarter and is usually a good sales time for the company. 

  2. Education and Apple’s new push into Enterprise are exceptions, and growing markets for the company. 

  • rick gregory

    I agree about the cycle being longer. I upgraded rapidly from the iPad 2 to the 3, to the retina Mini… but I’ll have the rMini for at least 4 years or so unless it fails in some way.

    In fact, Apple’s biggest challenge in getting me to upgrade is that the rMini (and the Air and now Air 2) are so good that there’s not any compelling hardware reason to upgrade. The screen, by definition, is as good as my eye can perceive and the CPUs are plenty powerful for most things.

    • This. I’d be interested to see where the iPad (and iPhone, to an extent) go from here in terms of exciting hardware upgrades (either real or perceived). Screens are now about as good as most eyes can make out, processors are speedy, and both product families are thin and light with decent batteries.

      I’ve realised recently that I’ve largely run out of feature requests – particularly for my iPad, which essentially feels like a screen to run apps on, and often seems to benefit from big new features (Retina displays, etc.) after the iPhone does.

  • I agree, I get every iPhone, but have stalled at the first retina iPad. Might finally upgrade to an Air, but for my needs (movies and internet), the old heavy one still works well enough.

  • Phreddy

    I agree. I’m now on my 3rd iPhone (all bought off plan from Apple) while over the same time I’ve only just upgraded my iPad 2 to an iPad Air 2. I anticipate keeping that for quite a while unless some brilliant new must have feature is introduced that it won’t support. Meanwhile I will probably go through two more iPhones…

  • drone

    Two point you will never mention is that 1. Tim Cook several times said iPad would be bigger than PC market. 2. If the growth slows down or keeps going down unless you gift another ipad to your non-computer savvy relative then ipad will be treated just like Apple treats ipod. No investment, No promotion, etc.

    Growth is how companies and stock market keep score whether it is revenue, profit or # of ipad sold. It is simple as that.

    PC had growth of 30+ years. That ipad has already failed to deliver in 5 years. You are just repeating Apple talking point.

    Tim Cook should have never mention PC market and be happy with ipad being used by 2 years old and 90 years old.

    • “1. Tim Cook several times said iPad would be bigger than PC market.” — Actually, he said the tablet market would be bigger than the PC market. That is still likely.

    • quick, better send Cook a memo on how to better run the biggest and most profitable tech company in the history of the human species. they need you!

  • StruckPaper

    Iphone 6+ costs more than the iPad (or iPad mini). Apple would only be too happy if cannibalization happens.

    • Meaux

      However, the 6+ is cheaper that smaller iPhone (say 5S) and an iPad or iPad mini.

  • Moeskido

    While I’d love to have a retina screen in a lower-weight form, I can’t make a case that our iPad 2 isn’t still working well for our uses.

    • rick gregory

      If you read text much, look at the iPad Air 2. The retina screen makes a lot of difference in how easy and comfortable it is to read text. For games, Facebook, etc? it’s not as big of a deal.

      • Moeskido

        Oh, I know this. I’ve seen the difference. But I’m not the only one making the decision. 😉

        • rick gregory

          🙂 If it’s a decision driven by money, look at what your 2 will fetch on Amazon. I’ve sold my older iPads each time I get a new one so that the out of pocket hit is much less.

        • alaska99801

          Listen to rick gregory. I traded in an ipad mini 1, wifi & cellular for $210 at amazon. So when i decide to upgrade this week for an Air 2, ill pay half the price. It is one way to see it. On the other hand, i have downgifted an ipad 3 to my older son. There are many ways to sell yourself, if you know what I mean.

          • Moeskido

            Well, if anything, I’d rather make the case that there are two of us who’d each benefit from having our own. But that’s a much higher mountain to climb.

  • The iPhone and iPad are two different products categories, and thus their sales won’t have correlate. The iPhone is today; the iPad although riding on the back of iOS technology is still the tomorrow of Personal Computing.