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Apple's biggest March quarter ever sees China grow while iPads shrink

Jason Snell | May 4, 2015
The quarterly conference calls Apple has with analysts should be boring, but there are always a few fascinating tidbits. Jason Snell unpacks what you need to know.

What Cook is saying is that the iPad's peripheral stats look good. There are lots of first-time iPad buyers, a good sign that the overall iPad user base is growing. The usage numbers show that the iPad is used much more than Android tablets. And Cook's favorite statistic, customer satisfaction, indicates that people love their iPads--they're just not buying a new one every year.

Then there's the other issue with the iPad, which is that Apple also makes a couple of iPhones that are much closer to the iPad in size than previous generations, as well as Mac laptops that keep getting smaller and thinner. On Monday Cook agreed that those product lines are eating away at some iPad sales, but he thinks that's okay:

Have we had cannibalization? The answer is yes. We're clearly seeing cannibalization from iPhone and, on the other side, from the Mac. Of course, as I've said before, we've never worried about that. It is what it is. That will play out. And at some point, it will stabilize. I'm not sure precisely when, but I'm pretty confident that it will.

It would be easy to suggest that Cook's statement about not knowing when the iPad will rebound, but knowing that it will--along with hints about "continued investments in our product pipeline which we're doing, that we've already had planned and have had planned for some time"--is him just kicking the can down the road.

But as Cook has said on previous calls, it seems more likely that the iPad story is one of an initial rush of enthusiasm, followed by a slower trickle of new users. Many people replace their iPhones every couple of years; iPads appear to be on a much longer replacement cycle, more akin to a Mac or PC. Just yesterday I heard from numerous iPad users talking about how they're still using the iPad 2.

At some point, those people will finally buy a new iPad--assuming that those 100 percent satisfaction scores are accurate. The bear argument for the iPad is that a lot of current iPad owners just won't bother buying a new model, preferring to use their iPhones and/or Macs to do those jobs. As Cook said, that's bad for the iPad but it's still good for Apple.

Me, I'm bullish on the iPad. No, it's not going to ever be the iPhone. But a business the size of the Mac, growing faster than the tablet market as a whole, is still a pretty good business to be in. The iPad may not be the product for everybody--at least, not today--but it doesn't need to be. It just needs to be great at what it does, and I think it is.


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