If you didn’t spend 5 minutes talking to me about Apple you’d probably assume I was one of their fan boys. Whilst I don’t have many of their products I can count quite a few of them littering my house with a shiny MacBook Pro scheduled to be delivered sometime soon. Long time readers of the blog will know that I’ve launched my share of both vitriol and praise in their general direction over the past couple years with most of it tending towards the former, almost wholly due to them rubbing the caged libertarian in my head the wrong way. I’d say that the other part is from the more fanatical parts of their fan base who seem to do more work than Apple’s own PR department.
Today’s rant comes to you courtesy of the latter who have recently taken to stating that the iPad, in all its wondrous “magical” glory, has begun chomping away at netbook sales as demonstrated by some recent sales figures:
Look at the figures, things seemed to be on the rise over the previous eight months with only two monthly declines that are explained by the drop off after holiday sales (Dec to Jan decline) and the drop off after back-to-school sales (Sep to Oct decline). The moment consumers were able to put down the money for an iPad, the number of notebook sales started to fall.
Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn also backed up this data telling the Wall Street Journal that Best Buy is seeing iPad sales taking as much as 50% away from notebook computer sales!
Indeed the way the data is presented it would make you think that even the mere mention of a computing product from Apple would be enough to scare people into not buying a netbook. However this is one of those times when you need to understand that correlation does not mean causation, I.E. whilst there’s data that shows these two variables interacting this does not imply that one has affected the other. In fact I’d argue that to say so ignores a wealth of data that was pointing to netbook sales stagnating a long time ago with a plunge to follow soon after.
2007 was the first year we saw a significant amount of traction with the netbook market with around 400,000 units being sold. The year that followed saw a stratospheric rise in sales, to the tune of almost 30000% with 11.4 million units sold. Whilst I can’t find a hard figure on sales for 2009 most articles around the time pegged an increase of around 100% or 22.8 million units moved. That kind of growth as any economist will tell you is completely and utterly unsustainable and it was inevitable that the netbooks would finally reach a point where their sales growth would hit a ceiling. It appears that the time is now which just so happens to coincide with a release from Apple. Whilst I’ll admit that there may be some influence from people not refreshing their netbook in lieu of an iPad I’d hazard a guess that that number is vanishingly small.
The trouble with using such figures as a tell for the iPad’s influence is that these are comparative figures (growth is compared to the year previous). If you take a look at that graph above you’ll see that the previous year’s growth was quite massive, hovering around the 30% region for all of the months that are showing decline. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year when we’re able to do the same comparison that we see a much more sustainable growth rate in the single figures. Growing at double digit rates for extended periods of time just isn’t doable, especially in an industry where hardware is usually expected to have a useful life of 3 years or more. The drop in sales is likely a combination of the market reaching saturation, netbooks falling out of favour (to be replaced with games consoles, new cameras and 3D TVs apparently) and an overall reduction in discretionary spending thanks to a bleak economic outlook in the USA. Somewhere in the midst of all those factors are those few people who were looking to buy a netbook but decided to go for an iPad instead, but those few do not swing as much power as the other factors that have had a downward pressure on netbook sales this past year.
Look I get it, Apple made a product that a lot of people think is pretty darn spiffy and anything that could be classed as a competitor obviously will be decimated by it. We’ve still yet to see the media revolution that it was meant to spawn (amongst other things) it seems rather premature that a device that hasn’t achieved its other goals is already decimating a market that it’s only casually related to. The stories then come from those who are towing the Jobs’ party line that netbooks are nothing more than cheap laptops, with little regard for the actual facts. Luckily it appears that not all of them are getting sucked into the easy pageviews and hopefully the fud will eventually be drowned out, leaving only the deluded fan boys holding onto dubious claims and long debunked statements.