May 10, 2011, 12:43 PM — Apple's iPad hasn't materially affected consumer PC sales, as some have claimed, a research firm said today.
During the 2010 holiday sales season, only about 12% of iPad buyers abandoned a PC purchase to acquire the tablet, making cannibalization a minor factor, according to survey data compiled by the NPD Group.
The decline of consumer PC sales growth rates has a much simpler explanation: The huge numbers posted by PC makers in the aftermath of Microsoft's 2009 launch of Windows 7.
"We're comparing PC sales against a record high," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD. "Yes, consumer notebook sales are down, but it's linked to that, not the iPad. The comparisons are to the best sales period in history."
Last month, other research firms, including IDC and Gartner, said global PC sales were down 3.2% and 1.1%, respectively . Gartner claimed that tablet sales -- the iPad makes up the vast bulk of those -- was one of the reasons why PC sales slumped.
According to NPD's poll of iPad owners, only 12% bought the tablet instead of a standard PC during last year's holidays, a dip from the 14% who purchased an iPad in the first six months of its availability.
Most consumers haven't seen the need to buy a desktop or notebook PC because they purchased one in the past 12 to 18 months, Baker. "That's the reason why iPad sales haven't cannibalized PCs," Baker said.
What Baker called conventional wisdom -- that tablet sales eat into low-priced notebooks -- "is most assuredly incorrect," he said. It's the over-$500 Windows consumer notebook where PC sales have been hurt. From October 2010 to March 2011, sales of those notebooks fell by 25%.
Even Apple has argued that iPads have dented PC sales . "Yes, I think there is some cannibalization," said Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, during a January earnings call.
While Baker refused to echo Cook, he did warn that iPads could shake up PCs, perhaps even the lowest-priced notebooks, within the next year or year and a half.
"The big challenge for [PC manufacturers] going forward with the iPad is for that second or third computer in the house," Baker said. "In the next six to 12 to 18 months, as consumers think about replacing the rest of their installed base of older PCs, people are going to start asking, 'What's right for me, another PC or a tablet?' That should give anyone in the PC business cause for concern."