Apple's iPad is not cannibalizing the notebook market, according to an NPD Group analyst, who suggests that tablets will likely impact different segments of PC sales in 2011.
Reports of the Apple iPad cannibalizing the market for
low-end notebooks have been greatly exaggerated, according to a new blog
posting from an NPD Group analyst. That follows a weekend ruckus over comments
attributed to Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, which suggested the tablet was indeed
eating into laptop sales.
"No one expected netbook sales to stay at the atmospheric
levels of 2009 and in fact netbooks, as a percentage of U.S. consumer sales,
have been very steady all year in the mid-teens," Stephen Baker, an analyst
with NPD Group, wrote
in a Sept. 20 posting on the research firm's official blog. "In light of
the sales facts it is, in my view, a mistaken and absolutely untenable position
to claim that PC sales are under pressure because of the iPad when there are so
many other factors that are contributing to the poor results."
Baker references data suggesting that netbook sales for July
and August-the peak of traditional back-to-school spending-have risen
year-over-year by 6 percent. While that represents something of a decline from
the past four years' double-digit growth, Baker added, "sales were most likely
to plateau at some point ... the fact that this slowdown coincides with the
release of the iPad (well sort of) is hardly proof of cause and effect."
Baker also points to the iPad's cost, as compared to that of
netbooks, as another reason to dismiss the cannibalism argument. "It is hard to
imagine that a flood of mass market consumers are switching from a product that
has an average price of under $300 during [back-to-school] to one that had [an
average selling price] of over $600 in Q2," he wrote. "That is not how mass
market consumers' act, trading from a low-cost price segment to a high-cost
The market for tablets will "likely be strong in 2011 and
impact different segments of PC sales at that time," Baker concluded, but
"unless you have actual data making the claim that the iPad is destroying the
PC market based on hearsay and innuendo is the worst case of rumor mongering."
Nonetheless, the idea of the iPad cannibalizing netbooks
gained widespread attention late last week, after Best
Buy CEO Dunn was paraphrased in The Wall Street Journal as saying the
tablets had cannibalized more than 50 percent of their sales from laptops.
Ahead of the weekend, Dunn moved to refute those comments.
"The reports of the demise of these devices are grossly
exaggerated," Dunn wrote in a Sept. 17 statement. "While they were fueled in
part by a comment in the Wall Street Journal that was attributed to me, they
are not an accurate depiction of what we're currently seeing. In fact, we see
some shifts in consumption patterns, with tablet sales being an incremental
His statement added: "As we said
during our recent earnings call, we believe computers will remain a very
popular gift this holiday because of the very distinct and desirable benefits
they offer consumers."
Other analysts, however, seem convinced of tablet PCs'
ability to affect the notebook market.
"We expect tablets to continue to pressure PCs as more vendors
launch products (e.g., Dell Streak and Samsung Tab) and Apple expands its iPad
distribution," Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty wrote in a research note, as
quoted by Fortune Magazine Sept. 17.
Huberty's research note uses data from NPD Group, which
shows overall U.S. notebook sales declining 4 percent year-over-year for 2010.
"Tablet cannibalization" is a significant factor in the dip, she supposedly
Other analysts agree with that assessment.
"Sales of traditional notebooks appear to be feeling
pressure from the iPad, causing a scramble by vendors to launch iPad-like
tablets," UBS analyst Maynard Um wrote in a Sept. 8 research note. "We believe
that a majority of this impact is occurring on the lower end of PC sales as the
iPad is priced close enough to this range that it becomes attractive to
consumers looking to make purchases within this segment."
Um predicts sales of 28 million iPads in 2011, while Huberty
pegs the overall tablet market as shipping 50 million units that year. The
question is whether those burgeoning sales will truly result in pain for the
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.