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The iPad isn’t a PC — so let’s not count it that way

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NPD DisplaySearch released a report on the worldwide PC market Thursday, and Apple is at the top of the heap. How can that be? Because NPD is choosing to tally “mobile PC” sales, and for them, that means iPads get thrown in along with laptops. Apple(s AAPL) doesn’t count iPads as laptops when they sell them or when they account for them to shareholders. And we don’t use them the same way. So why are we throwing them in the same basket?

When NPD says that Apple leads mobile PC makers with 23.4 million units sold worldwide during 2011’s Q4 — with the largest share of the market at 26.6 percent — that certainly sounds impressive. Especially when you know that Apple does not typically crack the top 5 in global PC sales.

But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for NPD to count them that way when the next statement in the report is this:

Nearly 80% of Apple’s mobile PC shipments were iPads, more than 18.7 million shipped in the quarter, up 156% Y/Y, and 48.4 million units for the year, up 183% Y/Y.

It’s the iPad that’s boosting that number. So why not just talk about iPads by themselves? NPD does get to that later on in the report, noting that Apple had a 59.1 percent share of the tablet market at Q4’s end, with 18.7 million iPads sold. (It’s worth noting that Apple reported 15.7 million iPads sold during that same period.)

So why give Apple’s PCs a boost? Make no mistake — Apple is doing pretty well selling actual PCs, considering where they’ve come from. Their most recent quarterly results showed 5.2 million sold during the last three months of 2011, the most Macs Apple has ever sold in a single quarter. (Note that that’s mostly MacBooks, which are true mobile PCs.) And the Mac is one of the only brands with real sales momentum — last month IDC called the last quarter of 2011 “the second-worst year in history” for the U.S. PC market, and Mac sales were the only bright spot, with 18 percent growth for the quarter.

NPD looks at tablets and laptops and says “they both have operating systems that support third-party apps and similar component packages,” so they should be counted the same. And they say their view is a little more forward-looking. The firm is thinking more about what happens when Windows 8 arrives on ARM chips.

“These artifical categories we created … they’re kind of decaying,” said NPD DisplaySearch senior analyst Richard Shim. “Windows 8 on ARM — what is that? Is that a PC or not a PC? We are looking a little bit forward.” While iPads right now make the case a little stronger that they’re different devices from PCs, he said, “as you look out further and see these two devices converging, you see that they’re kind of the same device.”

The iPad, though, is its own business for Apple, and one that is doing a pretty great job attracting customers by not being a PC. People are choosing them for a variety of reasons: they boot up faster, they travel easier in a bag or purse, you can get what you need done in apps with a few swipes or taps. When it’s time to get actual work done, sure, some people may pull out a wireless keyboard to attach to their iPad. But I would be willing to bet most of us wait until we get to a laptop (or desktop even) to write stories, reports, crunch numbers, edit photos or videos or design something, even if the components are similar.

Apple doesn’t think the iPad is a mobile PC either. CEO Tim Cook has been very open about the fact that he expects there to eventually be some cannibalization of Macs due to the iPad, though it may already be happening to Windows PCs. He does not, however, see the iPad completely erasing the PC industry. “I don’t subscribe to that” line of thinking, he told investors last week. And so far, he said, Mac sales being replaced by iPad sales has been minimal. The company’s sales results reflect that. If iPad sales and Mac sales are going up at the same time, that does say that the use case is just not the same.

17 Responses to “The iPad isn’t a PC — so let’s not count it that way”

  1. Climber boy

    Stop betting please and do some quantitative research.

    For your first data point you can put down that I use my iPad to create content – just wrote two economics papers on it with a Bluetooth key board.

    You might also want to survey the app offerings and see what other types of things can be done on it. My girl friend is putting together a spread sheet to track here triathlon training…

    With Office reportedly arriving, Photoshop, movie editing, DJ apps etc the iPad is quickly becoming a go-to device and the laptop getting dusty. The iPad is now a stand-alone device with iOS 5 so, more and more with, each new generation and each now OS, the iPad is replacing the laptop for more and more people.

  2. You know what, many people own a car and a truck and use both for different purposes. The truck for carrying heavy loads (traditional pc) and the car for everything else (iPad/tablets). Both fall into that “vehicle” category.

  3. Patrick Baek 

    I literally exerted myself here out of anger simply because I happened to come across reading yet another “PC” gibberish article being thrown in my inbox this morning.

    PC stands for “personal computer”. How come NEVER-HAS-BEEN – or somewhat “useless” – product so-called, “Netbook” or Google’s Chrome Book are being rightfully labels as PC, whereas tablet PCs such as iPad are not?

    @Erica Ogg, “Apple doesn’t count iPads as laptops…, So why are we throwing them in the same basket?”

    Neither Apple nor its competitors count iPad as laptop in the same way they don’t count iMac or MacPro as laptop either because it is called, a tablet PC, my friend! And you go further in quote, @Erica Ogg, “Apple is doing pretty well selling actual PCs…”

    “Actual PC”, seriously? Is that really the best word of choice for someone who used to work for CNET with a M.A degree in traditional (print) Journalism from USC?

    Here is how you misinterpret the source you spun everyone’s wheels on,

    @TomKrazit (from wrote in quote, ‘Still, Cook doesn’t think the iPad will lead to the death of the personal computer as we’ve known it for the past 25 years or so. “I don’t predict the demise of the PC industry, I don’t subscribe to that,” he said, although admitting that tablet sales were eating into Mac sales and were likely having the same effect on the PC industry, which is essentially stagnant. It seems pretty clear that Cook thinks of the iPad as a different product from the PC/Mac, unlike some industry observers who would prefer to lump the two together.’

    Tim Cook didn’t mean what you said in your quote, @Erica Ogg, “Apple doesn’t think the iPad is a mobile PC either…” The word, “traditional” or “Post-PC” were already implied in Mr. Cook’s original comment about how he (on behalf of Apple, Inc.) predicts the future of PC industry that already includes selling of desktop, laptop, tablets, smartphone, and so on. In other words, he simply meant to point out there will still be a market need for non-tablet PCs, thus continuously innovating traditional form factors of PC units such as iMac and especially Macbook Pro that is going to become more like the latest version of Macbook Air with more processing power and unique feature of utilities combined.

    Both an editor from, Tom Kratiz, and a senior analyst from NPD DisplaySearch, Richard Shim, with whom you’ve scratched the source from sound like they might’ve misused the word, “PC”, though I feel it is you who took it to the next level of gibberish. You are spinning the word (PC), which what might’ve been unintentionally taken out of context, into theorizing that “The iPad is not PC — so let’s not count it that way.”

    @Tom Krazit in quote, “It seems pretty clear that Cook thinks of the iPad as a different product from the PC/Mac.” What does he mean by “PC/Mac”? Like PC as in Window OS based non-Apple products vs. Non-tablet Apple PC like iMac and MBP? How many times do we come cross reading a job description that says, “You must be fluent in PC environment”? What they usually mean to say is that you must be familiar with working on Window OS, despite of how proficient you might be in using Mac – or Apple OS (implied).

    You said in quote @Erica Ogg, “But I would be willing to bet most of us wait until we get to a laptop (or desktop even) to write stories, reports, crunch numbers, edit photos or videos or design something, even if the components are similar.”

    Contrary to what some of your colleagues who might’ve studied in Print Journalism, (pun intended) like to think, most people take, edit, and post pictures as well as video via mobile devices, in the same way they access to SNS (e.g. Twitter) via mobile devices. Just look at the number of mobile app being downloaded, or the marketing data pulled from Flickr or Youtube that simply suggests how most users shares content using mobile devices, which you called it, not “actual PC”. But I bet you know that already.

    Only 25% of adults have a college degree in the U.S, while only 10% of American have a higher degree. Given that, how many of us – including yourself – in the U.S are actually in need of crunching numbers, editing media contents, designing, coding, and reporting at the level of such a high professionalism on a daily basis? It is true that laptop or desktop will continuously serve as a content creation device for some, whereas tablet PC is yet gearing toward as a content consumption device for many, which is actually what most consumers of PC industry like all of us were only able to do on what you called, “actual PC”, prior to the introduction of a new tablet PC such as iPad.

I know for a fact that you are an editor who writes stories for a living, not a business analyst. Are you really ignoring the number of Blackberry users who use Enterprise email account on a daily basis? â…“ of US adults are expected to own a tablet PC by the year of 2015 because it allows people to do things more efficiently in a way that wasn’t possible, thus gradually eliminating some of those time-consuming tasks on the go instead. What’s wrong with that?

    Smartphone is a mobile PC, so is Tablet PC like iPad for as long it does the job, but not Netbook since it’s been proven that adding a keyboard doesn’t simply make it a PC, but Google’s Chrome Book might be since it does the job for what it is meant to do.

    I just don’t see why you were so rush to write an article like this as if a college-freshman had to turn in a 3 pages, Double-space, essay homework at the last minute before the deadline.

  4. Sunanda Nair

    lol this is a funny conversation. as long as the ipad can’t play certain videos or allow me to view certain websites because it won’t run flash it’s not a pc…I am not saying flash is the only requirement to call something a pc i am just saying it’s what keeps me from classifying the ipad as one.

    • John Molloy

      “…as long as the ipad can’t play certain videos or allow me to view certain websites because it won’t run flash it’s not a pc”

      What an inane comment.

      So no tablet going forward will be a PC? Adobe has pulled Flash development for all mobile devices.

      “I am not saying flash is the only requirement to call something a pc i am just saying it’s what keeps me from classifying the ipad as one.”
      Hmmm, very strange logic there.

  5. BornRight

    No matter whether you count the iPad as a PC or not, most iPad buyers have replaced their traditional computers either partly or even fully with the tablet. The iPad can do many things that you previously needed a PC for, which is why it is eating into PC sales. You should understand that the physical form factor of the PC will change over time. It won’t remain like a desktop or laptop forever. Today tablets and smart phones can be counted as PCs because they can do many things a full blown computer can. Your point that Mac sales haven’t fallen due to the iPad is silly because you can’t say how many more Macs would have been sold had there been no iPad at all. In fact Macs have never sold anywhere close to the number of Windows PCs and that’s why you see iPad affecting Windows PC sales more than the Mac.

  6. No, No, No!!!

    There is one and only one reason to consider the iPad a PC and that is to keep the numbers working. See the real problem is that 3-4 years ago people lumped netbooks in with PC’s because if you didn’t PC sales slumped really badly. Now, netbook sales are dying because of tablet sales like the iPad and so to keep the numbers working you have to look at iPads as computers the same way you did with netbooks. This keeps the industry looking like it is growing and because one tech supplants the other, it makes sense.

    Tablets destroyed netbook sales and are eating into PC sales, and that is why the iPad can be counted as a computer.

  7. I believe the definition has to be qualified. What separates a TIVo from an XBox from a PC? The data to be manipulated.
    As soon as I can manipulate the same data [CLOUD anyone] as soon that machine falls in the same category at least some time.
    For example a simple [shared, Google Doc] shopping list, created org. on Notebook, modified by whatever system was close [to the kitchen [most of the time a tablet, worked against [buying] by deleting stuff from phones in stores or notebook for online shopping. What’s the PC? Google’s servers since they show who did what when or the myriad of devices personally used to manipulate the data?

  8. The iPad is a PC in every way that matters. You are trying to define market segments based on sales and how one company does its books. That makes no sense. You need to define what a PC is and see if the iPad and other tablets fit the category.

    Wiki is a good place to start:
    “A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator.”

    iPad seems to fit unless you want to argue the general-purpose part. But it is hard to argue that the capabilities of the iPad aren’t general-purpose for the vast majority of task for which end-users use PCs.

  9. jaygknight

    Well the competition including Microsoft calls the iPad a PC. since they are the ones losing money on this, I’d probably listen to their opinion rather than some blogger

  10. ViewRoyal

    PC stands for “personal computer”.

    No one would argue that the iPad is not a computer. It runs similar categories of applications and can edit and create just like any desktop or notebook computer.

    In fact it is more capable than many low-end notebook and netbook PCs.

    So is it “personal” the answer to that would have to be “yes” too.