Hard to Argue With Numbers Like That (or the iPad Conundrum).

It’s no secret that I’m amongst the iPad’s most harsh critics. My initial reaction was one of frustration and disappointment with my following posts continuing the trend, launching volley after volley about how the iPad had failed to meet the goals that some of its largest supporters had laid out before it. After that I avoided commenting on it except for one point where I dispelled some of the rumours that the iPad was killing the netbook market, since there was more evidence that the netbook market was approaching saturation than the iPad was stealing sales. Still I hadn’t heard any reports of the product failing miserably so I had assumed it was going along well, I just didn’t know how well.

To be honest I was intrigued to see how the iPad did almost a year later as whilst the initial sales were pretty amazing I hadn’t really heard anything since then. Usually when a company is doing well they like to trumpet that success openly (hello Android) but Apple’s silence felt like it said a lot about how the iPad was performing. As it turns out it was doing really well, so well in fact that even the most wild predictions of its success were way off:

Apple sold almost 15 million iPads last year.  It is outselling Macs in units, and closing in on revenues.  The 7.3 million iPads sold just in the December quarter represented a 75 percent increase from the September quarter, and the $4.6 billion in revenue represented a 65 percent sequential jump. (The iPad launched in April).  By any measure, this is an incredible ramp for an entirely new computing product.  It is so startling that nobody predicted it—not bullish Wall Street analysts, or even wild-eyed bloggers.

A post on Asymco tallies all the early predictions of iPad unit sales from both Wall Street analysts and tech bloggers. The iPAd ended up selling 14.8 million units in 2010.  The highest Wall Street estimate from April was 7 million (Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech).  David Bailey at Goldman Sachs predicted 6.2 million.  Even Apple table-pounder Gene Munster initially thought they would sell only 3.5 million iPads. The average prediction among the 14 analysts listed was 3.3 million.

Even I’d find it hard to keep a straight face and say that almost 15 million sold in under a year isn’t a sign of success. Since Jobs’ return to the Cupertino company they’ve made a name for themselves in bringing technology to the masses in a way that just seems to command people to buy them and the iPad is just another example of how good they are at doing this. The iPad coincidentally fuelled demand for other Apple products leading to Apple having the best financial quarter ever. Even the industry analysts had a hard time predicting that one. There’s then no denying that the iPad is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Whilst much of the groundwork was laid by the several generations of iPhones before it the iPad is quite a viable platform for developers to work on and companies to promote their brand with.

However I still can’t help but feel that some of the hype surrounding it was a little bit too far reaching. Initially many people saw something like the iPad as the death knell for traditional print media, killing all those who dared defy the trend and publish themselves through the digital medium. In the beginning there were signs of a media revolution in the works with many big media companies signing on to create iPad versions of their more traditional media. The results were good too with many of the digital magazines and newspapers selling hundreds of thousands of copies in their first runs. However the shine soon faded failing to capture a new digital market and not even managing to cannibalise sales from their traditional outlets. The media revolution that so many expected the iPad to herald in has unfortunately fallen by the way side and I take a rather sadistic pleasure in saying “I told you so”.

By all other accounts though the iPad counts as a resounding success. Whilst I hate the fact that Apple managed to popularise the tablet format I can’t honestly say they haven’t created a market that barely existed before their product arrived. As always the hype may have run away from them a little bit in terms of what people thought the device symbolises but, let’s be honest here, that should be expected of any new device that Apple releases. I’m still waiting to see if any of the tablets will take my fancy enough to override the fiscal conservative in me but it would seem that Apple has managed to do that enough people to make the iPad the most successful tablet ever released, and that’s something.

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