Blame the iPad for the crash in tablet sales

The iPad is not new any more, and tablets are so good that you don't need a new one -- but it doesn't mean PCs are back

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Because the iPad defined the modern tablet and pushed the category forward -- the truth is that Android tablets simply copy whatever Apple does a few months later -- it's also the iPad's fault that tablet sales have stalled or crashed by not creating enough compelling reason for replacement purchases.

Yes, the recent Apple-IBM deal will further boost iPad sales in businesses, where they make perfect sense as an adjunct device for many desk workers and a primary device for many field workers. However, the overall downward trend will persist until the masses of people who already own iPads and Android tablets -- the several hundred million of them -- begin replacing their tablets.

No, PC sales are not rebounding
At the same time, an apparent uptick in PC sales to both businesses and individuals this spring is being heralded as a rebound for the PC industry, which has seen its sales decline for several years in a row. That decline has two causes: Money diverted to the iPad and other tablets, and a deep dislike of Windows 8 by both individuals and businesses. The recession of 2006-2010 only exacerbated the sales decline. A large number of old PCs are starting to show their age, making further replacement delays painful.

Microsoft's discontinuation of Windows XP support in April also spurred some companies and individuals to replace their old PCs, as Best Buy's Joly notes. But if you look at the data, PC sales have not really gone up. Sales of Apple's Macs have in fact increased, but not of Windows PCs. Both Gartner and IDC say the rate of decline for PC sales has slowed, mainly due to the end-of-XP replacements. Sales dropped 10 percent in 2013 and are on track to drop by "only" 3 percent in 2014. Best Buy may have seen an uptick in PC sales (which includes Macs) in its stores, but not the market as a whole.

Here's the truth: A slowdown in the rate of decline is not a rise in sales. PC sales are still on a downward trend, and tablet sales are still expected to surpass PC sales in 2015. So much for a tablet crash or a PC resurgence.

It's a fact that tech sales data is notoriously slippery. Gartner, IDC, IHS iSupply, and Kantar Worldwide frequently publish contradictory findings, mainly because they rely on different sources for their sales data. (IDC and Gartner are particularly and regularly wrong about Mac sales.)

Some of those sources don't distinguish between devices sold to stores ("shipped" devices) and those sold to actual customers ("sold" devices). Some vendors manipulate their channel strategies to look better in such reports, usually by stuffing the channel for several quarters with extra shipments to stores -- and not reporting the returns or unsold units until they have to, in the separate financial statements they provide stockholders months later.

But even with these channel manipulations and variable data sources, the overall patterns are clear: PCs aren't a growth market, and tablets are becoming more like PCs in their sales patterns.

You can blame the iPad for both patterns: It's reduced the need for new PCs, and it's struggling to create new need for new iPads. But I have much more faith in Apple finding ways to get more people to buy iPads in the future, and even replace them more often, than I do the PC industry.

This article, "Blame the iPad for the crash in tablet sales," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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