Why Didn’t Apple Sell More iPads In Q4?

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

In a fiscal fourth quarter that slightly missed profit expectations, Apple reported one figure that looks especially worrisome: It sold only 14 million iPads.

You’re thinking, of course, are you crazy? Fourteen million, up 26% from a year ago ($7.5 billion worth of them), is a problem? Yes–because it’s at least 1 million below expectations already reduced by analysts who figured that if 100 million iPads were sold so far, as Apple announced at the iPad mini event, their 17.5 million fourth-quarter estimate was too high.

Update: After rising a fraction of 1% in initial after-hours trading, Apple’s shares moved up and down before flattening after the analyst call started. Shares had fallen 1% today, to $609.54.

There are a number of possible reasons iPad sales fell even shorter than expected. Here are some, pending comments on the analyst call currently underway, during which I’ll be updating this post–and there are a lot of questions on iPads:

* Cannibalization: This is the concern raised by some analysts: People who couldn’t quite justify $400 and up for a regular iPad were waiting for the iPad mini, which starts at $329. No one really knows how many people did this, but it seems likely some did. Update: Apple CEO Tim Cook essentially confirmed not cannibalization but delayed purchases thanks to iPad mini rumors.

* Shortages: When the iPad mini came out with a minimum price of $329, analysts wondered why it wasn’t closer to the other seven-inch tablets from Google and Amazon.com, whose base prices range from $159 to $199. It turns out that some components for the device are in short supply, so it didn’t make sense to price them lower and create demand Apple couldn’t fulfill. But perhaps the shortages affected current iPads as well?

* Consumer saturation: Well, I doubt it, since lower price points, the undeniable appeal of tablets to consumers, and the fact that  a lot of people still don’t have them all mean the iPad probably isn’t limited by demand. But it’s something to think about, given that 100 million have been sold already, very quickly.

And the most interesting possibility:

* Competition: Could Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire, and other, full-size Android and Windows tablets finally hitting iPad sales? The market research numbers show millions of those devices have sold, so it’s a distinct possibility, especially ahead of the lower-cost iPad mini.

They’re still far below iPad sales. But it doesn’t take an Apple Genius to see that the arrival of at least decent rival tablets could be presenting real competition for the first time. That’s perhaps the most worrisome possibility if only because it seems the most likely–if not in the last quarter, at least in future quarters.

Here’s more from the analyst call: Apple is saying that it exceeded its own expectations for iPad sales. So assuming it’s not blowing smoke, maybe analysts just got ahead of themselves. Also, Apple says it had 3.4 million iPads in channel inventory in the quarter, or its target four weeks of inventory, so that’s potentially a factor in sales numbers. …

Read the complete post, with more from Tim Cook on the analyst call, at The New Persuaders.

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