Apple: iPads might be cutting into Mac sales, but not as much as PC sales

by Phil Hornshaw

Photo: igrec@flickrApple had its quarterly earnings call last week, running down the numbers for its various divisions from the summer, and made an interesting admittance: iPads are cannibalizing Mac sales.

It’s not nearly as bad as that phrase might first suggest, but it’s interesting to consider given that whenever anyone talks about iPads and the markets they’re cutting into, it’s usually the sales of PCs that are marked as taking hits. PC sales have been declining for some time now, but as Apple CEO Tim Cook noted, the company’s Mac business just had its best quarter ever.

But that doesn’t mean that the iPad isn’t drawing customers who would otherwise buy an Apple computer to purchasing an Apple tablet instead.

Cook said during the call that he believes the iPad market will eventually overtake PCs. When pushed a little more, according to TechCrunch’s story about the call, he admitted that Macs might be in the same boat:

Yes, we’re seeing cannibalization [of the Mac]. It’s showing up in two ways. Some people are electing to buy an iPad rather than a Mac. However, I think a larger percentage are choosing iPad over a Windows-based PC. We’re coming out overwhelmingly well with regards to cannibalization. Even with the iPad having its best quarter ever, the Mac had its best quarter ever as well.

So in Apple’s view, it’s a win-win situation. As the company released numbers from its various departments, it defined what “best quarter ever” meant for the iPad: 11.1 million units sold, an increase of 166 percent over the same time last year, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, Apple said it sold 4.9 million Mac computers, which was 27 percent higher than this time last year.

Apple also sold 17.1 million iPhones in the quarter, up 21 percent from last year, and that doesn’t include the more than 4 million sales from the iPhone 4S, because it was released after the end of Apple’s quarter on Sept. 30.

But although Apple posted more sales of iPhones than it did this quarter last year, it wasn’t as much as it expected which was about 20 million. Apple blamed the difference on iPhone rumors leading up to the iPhone 4S release pushing down September sales, although they apparently haven’t had too bad an impact on iPhone 4S sales, it appears.

All told, Apple reported that its full year profits hit $25.9 billion dollars in fiscal 2011, up a whopping 85 percent from 2010. Still, Wall Street apparently expected better and Apple shares dropped 5 percent after the news broke.

But it sounds as though fiscal 2012 could make up for 2011’s big but not quite big enough gains. With the release of the super-popular iPhone 4S already pulling down major numbers, plus the possibility of the iPhone 5 in June and a 12-month product cycle expiring for the iPad 2, it’s likely that Apple will continue to post huge numbers.