The Astonishing, Disappointing iPad

“Peak iPad!”

We’ve reached peak iPad.

Or, at least, that’s the current meme going around this week. Truth be told, it actually started last week, leading up to Apple’s earnings on Tuesday. A few folks read the tea leaves and guessed that Apple’s iPad sales would disappoint this quarter. And lo! They were right.

But let’s take a moment to consider the definition of “disappoint”:

fail to fulfill the hopes or expectations of (someone)

In that sense, the definition is correct. iPad sales did disappoint one group of folks immensely: Wall Street.

But that’s also a comical exaggeration of the word. 16-plus million units sold is now disappointing because it wasn’t the 19-plus million sold a year ago. This for a product that did not exist four years ago.

At first during the earnings call, Tim Cook tried to explain the “miss” on supply chain minutia. That was a mistake. His second explanation was much better:

When I back up from iPad, here’s what I see. It absolutely has been the fastest growing product in Apple’s history and it’s been the only product that we’ve ever made that was instantly a hit in three of our key markets, from consumer to business, including the enterprise and education.
And so, if you really look at it in just four years after we launched the very first iPad, we’ve sold over 210 million, which is more than we or I think anyone thought was possible at that period of time. And it’s interesting to note that that’s almost twice as many iPhones that we’ve sold in a comparable period of time, and over seven times as many iPods as we’ve sold in the period of time. So, I think it’s important to kind of put that in perspective. We’ve come a long way very, very quickly…

In other words, the iPad got too successful, too quickly, for its own good. Or rather, for Wall Street’s version of “its own good”.

I know that sounds like “fanboy” rhetoric. But I have 210 million reasons why it’s not. And I have more.

As a standalone business, just based on the last 12 months of revenue, the iPad would be in the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500. Think about that for a second. The iPad alone is bigger than almost all Fortune 500 companies.

If the iPad is a fad, it’s the greatest fad in the history of American business.

And so I repeat: the iPad got too successful, too quickly. And everyone (including Apple) got spoiled by those insane numbers.

So iPad. Much sales. (via

What we had was a perfect storm of events that led to the rise of the iPad:

  1. The iPhone priming the public for iOS.
  2. The desire for larger touchscreens.
  3. And, of course, the implosion of the PC industry.

This is what led to 210 million units sold in four years.

All this in the face of being “just a big iPod touch,” remember? The iPad was doomed by many to flop from the outset. Four years and 210 million units later, it’s still being doomed to flop, but the vantage point has changed. Now “it’s no iPhone”.

That is, of course, true. Your smartphone you always have on you, your tablet you do not. It’s a different type of computing device. You can argue that as phones get bigger, they veer too close to tablets for a tablet purchase to still be justified. But I do believe we’ll see phone sizes eventually settle in the 4 to 5-inch range, while tablets go the other way: larger, as they embrace their destiny.

I return to my mother. She first looked at the iPad as cool, but foreign. Now you can barely pry it out of her hands. It is her computer. Keyboard be damned.

In concluding his iPad thoughts on the earnings call, Tim Cook noted that he continued to believe the iPad would eclipse the PC market in terms of sales. Tim Cook is an operations guy. He has long handled Apple’s supply chain perhaps better than anyone has ever handled a supply chain in the history of industry. When he makes such a prediction, it’s not to be taken lightly. He has Apple’s supply chain ready and primed for such a day.

As he noted:

And so, when I back up from all of these, I feel great. That doesn’t mean that every quarter, every 90 days is going to be a number that everybody is thrilled with. But what it means to me is that the trend over the arc of time that things look very, very good, that iPad has a great future. And of course the thing that drives us more than any of this are the next iPads if you will, the things that are in the pipeline, the things that we can do to make the product even better and there is no shortage of work going in on that nor any shortage of ideas.

Peak iPad? We’ll see.