Update! So is the iPad a PC?

July 27th, 2010

According to the conventional wisdom, Apple is selling more and more Macs every quarter, but remains far behind on the global market, with just a slim single digit market share.  The real issue, however, is whether the well-known surveys are seriously understating Apple’s success.

You see, in addition to selling 3.47 million Macs this past quarter, Apple also moved 3.27 iPads. So how do you define an iPad anyway?

To some, the iPad is just a swollen iPod touch, a handheld personal information gadget that’s best used for book reading and Web surfing. On the other hand, just where is the line of demarcation between a tablet, typified by the iPad, and a personal computer, such as a Mac?

You can use both to browse the Internet and handle your email. The presence of Apple’s Keynote and Pages means that you can also create content on an iPad, and I haven’t begun to cover the thousands of other content creation apps available from third parties. That’s still a burgeoning market, although the Mac is still way ahead.

On the other hand, today’s iPad is far more functional than many older Macs, and probably a whole lot faster to boot. The 9.7 screen is larger than any of the original compact Macs and earlier PowerBooks.

So why not call it a personal computer and be done with it?

Of course, such a conclusion entails the recognition that a device using an operating system originally installed on tiny smartphones and similar gadgets is also sufficiently powerful and functional to run a “real” computer. That assumes, of course, that a smartphone or an iPod touch, for that matter, isn’t a PC, although they share many features.

At least three posts I read online, from Tony Smith of The Register, Michelle Maisto at eWeek, and Jonny Evans at Computerworld, suggest that the sales of Macs and iPads ought to be combined, and if you do that, suddenly Apple is selling close to seven million PCs, sufficient to place the company among the top five PC makers worldwide, with a market share of over eight percent. According to these reports, one market research firm, Canalys, has evidently begun to take that approach, and you wonder when or if such companies as Gartner and maybe even NPD might use the same statistical model.

Sure, it’s quite possible Apple’s rivals will claim that sales of their tablet-based products ought to be considered in the same light. But I expect they already are, since pretty much all of the existing iPad rivals are just gussied up note-books with special screens running the very same version of Windows used on regular portables.

Or maybe not, if they can’t devise a credible iPad killer, and that’s still an open question. The latest would-be contenders are expected to use Google’s Android OS, Google’s forthcoming Chrome OS, or in the case of HP, the WebOS they acquired when they purchased Palm.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve no problem whatever with combining the iPad and the Mac when it comes to overall sales. Yes, they are two set of answers to the same questions, but they overlap sufficiently that lots of customers can comfortably use one or the other and pretty much accomplish similar tasks.

On the long haul, I expect the continued growth of the iPad may well mean that it will become the PC of choice for many buyers. Right now, there’s little evidence of cannibalization from Macs, though. The combined iPad/iPhone/iPod halo effect simply attracts more people to Apple’s products. All three comfortably mate with a Mac or PC courtesy of iTunes.

But once a customer is exposed to Apple’s technology — even the vast majority of iPhone 4 users despite the alleged impact of that antenna issue — they are more apt to consider a Mac when it comes time to buy a new PC.

On the long haul, it means Mac sales will continue to climb ahead of the PC market. But it’s also true that future iterations of the iPad will become more and more credible as PC replacements. Today that means fewer netbook sales, but in the future it may also mean that the traditional PC, even a Mac, will be an afterthought except for people who are accustomed to the mouse and keyboard configuration or engage in heavy-duty content creation.

You will, as Steve Jobs suggests, still need the truck for heavy lifting or powerful productivity apps, but the sleek family car will comfortably serve the needs of the rest of us.

In the end, I think Canalys has the right idea. Total iPad and Mac sales should be combined and, particularly in the U.S., that approach would place Apple’s market share far closer to its major rivals.

Of course, that may also be one reason why industry analysts will keep them separate as long as they can. It’s not as if Apple’s rivals want to see them credited with a heavier share of the PC pie.

| Print This Article Print This Article

10 Responses to “Update! So is the iPad a PC?”

  1. Steve Paris says:

    Hi Gene

    Just to let you know, the proportion of Macs vs PCs must be way off somehow. I have a website which has nothing to do with technology so there aren’t any supposed distortions.

    Here’s the values I have from January 2010 to now:

    Windows: 68.1%
    Mac: 25.2%
    Linus: 2.2%
    Other: 4.3%

    Not bad for a system that’s supposedly in the single digits.

    Back on topic, if you’re going to add iPad sales to boost the marketshare, what about iPhones and iPod touches? After all, they could be considered PCs too and the iOS is the same as the iPad.

  2. Andrew says:

    That 25.2% may include iPad and iPhone, as many counters see all of them as OS X.

  3. Alan Smith says:

    If it has an OS, has a processor, computes, then it is a computer. My iPhone is a small computer, my iPod touch is a computer; hence, the iPad is a computer. Computers are not defined by their processing ability or what programs they can or cannot run. Many netbooks would not be defined as computers by many since they cannot run graphic intensive programs (such as games), do not not have dual, quad processors, etc.. The definition of a computer needs to be updated as the form factor and use of programs has changed from the initial 1980’s PCs.

  4. Jonny Evans says:

    Good post Gene — wondered if you could perhaps add mine to the three you link to? I’ll be sure to return the favor.
    All best
    Jonny Evans

  5. Bill Dalzell says:

    I can’t think of the iPad or iPhone as computers in their own right until they can update, backup and restore without using another computer to do so. iPads haven’t impacted sales of Macs simply because you still need a real computer to keep the iPad and iPhone running.

  6. Hoagus says:

    If the iPad is a PC, then why would the iTouch not also be one? Same OS, not a phone, runs many of the same apps. Too small? What about those little WinCE devices? Are they counted as PC’s?

  7. SteveP says:

    One can find any number of rationalizations for considering an iPad a “computer”. However I agree with one of the above posters that the definition needs to be updated FIRST. Then you can have a metric of “computer sales” and “computing device sales.
    IF the iPad is considered because it’s “almost a PC” the the iPhone/iPod Touch must be included as they are “almost an iPad”. (Screen size makes a difference in ability to “compute”??)

    in the end I think most people KNOW what is meant in comparing sales of COMPUTERS. And I’ll fall back on what my old granny used to riddle me as a child.

    “How many legs does a sheep have if you call the tail a leg?”
    A. “Four! Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one!”

Leave Your Comment