iPad Optics

The iPad has an installed base of over 300 million. This is a far larger audience than that of the Mac (which has somewhere between 100 million and 150 million). And whereas the iPad acquired this audience in about 7 years, the Mac took 33 years.

Curiously however, it is the iPad that is seen as the more fragile product. The iPad is considered to be failing, with a presumption of an end of life in the near future. The evidence of this failure the year-on-year decline in units sold. This is illustrated by the following graph. Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.05.21 PM

Note that the iPad decline is paired with a steady increase in the Mac. The iPad exhibits a four year decrease in overall volumes. This has, as they say, bad optics.

But what is seen isn’t all that might be,

If we look further we see that the iPad is still a much loved and much used product. Data from the Pew Internet Survey shows that tablet ownership among US adults increased from 45% in April 2015 to 48% in April 2016 and 51% in November 2016. The rise has been steady. Although this counts tablets, the iPad had 85% share of the U.S. market for tablets priced above $200 so it’s a fair assumption that the iPad audience is growing. Similar data exists for the UK.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.11.50 PM

In addition, user satisfaction with the product continues to be very high. Apple cited that in November, 451 Research measured a 94% consumer satisfaction rate for iPad Mini, a 97% rate for iPad Air, and 96% for iPad Pro. Finally, browsing, shopping and app usage data also show continuing high utilization for iPads.

Furthermore, iPads are still growing in “non-consuming” markets. iPad posted double-digit growth in both Mainland China and India, it continues to attract a very high percentage of first-time tablet buyers.

Finally, within corporate buyers there is a 96% satisfaction rate with 66% purchase intent. Apps and solutions are continually being developed for the platform.

Taking into account that the iPad has a large, stable, engaged and loyal user base that continues to expand and find new uses the optically bad sales data needs an explanation. The simplest explanation is probably the best: iPads remain in use far longer than phones, and perhaps even longer than some computers.

Anecdotally we can see evidence for this. Few iPads are replaced every two years the way phones are. They are not tied to service contracts or subsidized. They are also less likely to be damaged during usage as phones are dropped and banged-up. iPads are more stationary or carried in protected containers. Phones are in pockets, iPads are in bags.

So iPads are longer-lived products and it’s perfectly reasonable that people who have them keep using them and more people are joining them but slowly. Note also that the decline in sales seems to be flattening out and perhaps might show stabilization.

Further countering of the iPad in decline idea is the continual improvement in the product. The latest is a refresh of the iPad with more battery life, a better screen and support for Pencil.

Perhaps the iPad will not return to rapid growth, or perhaps it will. But the more likely possibility is that the iPad will level out maintaining steady levels and, perhaps, grow slightly. This flat rather than up/down trajectory is unusual in devices but it isn’t when you look at the Mac. And isn’t the goal of the iPad to become a computer?  If so then perhaps Mission Accomplished.


  • actualbanker

    I think the corporate penetration figure does have some impact on the replacement cycle too. From my own use, a sample of one, I haven’t bought an iPad for myself – since work has provided one. Work also provides a phone – but in that case I also have my own. An iPad is more of a shared device as well – my wife and son share one, but that doesn’t happen as much with phones.

  • Luis Alejandro Masanti

    If some miracle does change the way bloggers and ‘web journalist’ get their income… in other words, if they do not rely on page clicks and advertisement to fill the table of food…
    …almost all speculations about Apple going down will disappear and only analysis like this of Horace will remain.

    Test case: You have to decide which title will you see:
    1- iPads grow 1% year over year.
    2- iPads downfall inevitable! Apple is doomed!

    I do respect bloggers and journalist. But also understand their needs.

    And, on the topic of iPads, hotel and hospital rooms are being filled with them!

  • pk_de_cville

    I’ve been banging the drum everywhere:

    The new iPad //Changes Everything//.

    LTE is //standard// at $329. (Keep that $120, Apple has a bigger fish to fry.)

    And, come Christmas telecoms everywhere, will have the opportunity to run BOGO sales except the sales will be exclusively “GO” sales (Free) with some extended contract. This iPad is a rocket.

    Concerned about iPad Pro competitive pricing and specs? I bet all will come with FREE LTE too.

    • You are misinformed. The Wi-Fi + Cellular model still costs $130 extra normally.

      • pk_de_cville

        You’re right. “My bad.”

  • Åsa Stenström

    I see iPads in more working environments, sometimes in places where I never thought of that iPads would be useful. One example is in the digging business. I know a company where every guy in an excavator get an iPad. They use it for maps, documenting their work, sending reports, getting updates about jobs and such. Another example is people that attend many meetings, for example politicians or public servants. They use iPads for reading documents, taking notes and sometimes taking pictures. I’ve also followed the work with laying down fiber and the fiber company gave our iPads to those who were in charge for all the contracts with the land owners. They used it for maps and for signing contracts.

    I think that more people will slowly discover how useful an iPad can be. Apple is known to work closely to both schools and healthcare, so iPads are part of their daily work as well.

    The iPad Pro is enhancing the iPad experience. Yes, it’s possible to work with MS Office on an iPad Pro, but that’s not a big deal for me. I am more impressed by how much easier it becomes to read, comment and make marks in documents on an iPad Pro, than on a smaller iPad. I also love that using creative tools like Mindmap och sketching ideas with the Apple Pencil, have become so much easier to do in cooperation with others around the table, because the size makes it easier to look at.

    On top of that, the Apple Pencil is great for drawing and painting. I use apps like Tayasui Sketches and ProCreate and not until I got my iPad Pro has it been possible to draw with precision. This means that I prefer to draw on my iPad, in stead of using my iMac and a Wacom stylus. More artists and illustrators will discover the joy of using an iPad Pro together with the Apple Pencil.

    I think that we are just in the beginning of how people will become dependent on iPads.

    • al Birn

      I concur. In the medical field, almost all my drug reps bring their iPad to detail me, show a brief graph animation and then for me to sign for samples. (they occasionally bring lunch which I have to sign for as well).

      • jameskatt

        That is because it is cheaper to use an iPad than a laptop.
        And it prevents the reps from using the computer for nonbusiness uses.

    • BMc

      In our hyper active news world, with the constant search for the “what’s new”, it can seem like the iPad has been around forever. But it has just been 7 years, which is young when looking at the broader tech industry. When Windows 95 came on the scene, modern GUI “PC’s” were 12+ years old. The point is that it takes time for applications, workflows, new ideas – and people – to adapt. It is simply the nature of tech & people.

      You give further anecdotal evidence to items I talk about (relating to PC’s and tablets), in that an iPad is not meant to replicate the functions of a PC, but rather that its ultra-portable / always connected / touch interface will change the nature of some computing work. Jobs where the employees “move” are the first to change.

      The iPad doesn’t need a mouse, user-accessible file system, nor a USB port – it needs to continue to drive new computing workflows forward.

  • ph11

    I think that many have conflated unit sales with establishment of a durable product. And, as always, failed to recognize that Apple is as concerned (or perhaps even more concerned) with customer satisfaction than with sales. With iPad, we see establishment of a real platform, with scale, and high satisfaction. That seems to mean some job has been done properly. For more thoughts on this, here:

    • AAPL.To.Break.$135.Soon.>:-)

      Wall Street seems to hate the idea of any company building products that last a long time. Their reasoning is so selfish and stupid. How many consumers really want to have to buy products every year or so? All that constant manufacturing makes it really hard on the ecology by using up natural resources. What’s wrong with an iPad lasting a user five years if it’s still working properly. These analysts are always saying people don’t buy new iPads because there’s not enough reason to upgrade and that’s Apple’s fault for not being innovative enough. Such nonsense.

      Apple is a company that’s into “greening” so they know it’s better for users to hold onto products for a longer time. Wall Street is simply too obsessed with yearly sales and they get some sort of thrill out of announcing some company is shipping 50 million units every quarter. That number usually just means more landfill. I like how Apple is building up its device base. That should be absolutely great for creating attractive services for all those devices. They’ll be the gift that keeps on giving.

  • jim8151

    For many non-technical folks who just need some kind of working computer, the iPad checks nearly all the computer boxes and some that a typical computer (laptop or desktop) don’t. And, yeah, they’ll keep their iPad for five years (or more).

  • BMc

    But if iPads are starting to stabilize, or perhaps return to some very small amount of growth (low single percentages per year), and Mac is continuing its thing, and iPhones are doing that slow growth thing, and wearables are starting to grow, and services continue to grow…then however can we make the argument that Apple is doomed…more focus is required here to find the answer.

    • Shawn Dehkhodaei

      They’re doomed, because it’s written in their corporate charter …. ” a great company, with great products, amazing vision, and yet destined to be doomed” …. yeah sounds about right. That’s just fluff from Wall Street ….

  • Sacto_Joe

    (I originally posted this in comments on’s story “Microsoft Windows 7 is still king of the desktop”, March 17, 2017, but it’s relevant here as well. I think it would be interesting if Horace added the PC info I discuss below to the above chart. Among other things, it would illustrate the sinking PC market, which basically parallels the shrinking iPad market. This suggests strongly to me that PC’s, Macs, and iPads are all being impacted to a greater or lesser degree by larger screen smartphones.)

    It’s important to put numbers into perspective!

    Back in November of last year, Horace Deidu of Asymco dot com published “Wherefore art thou Macintosh?”. It’s extremely relevant to the picture painted in the linked article. Check out Horace’s shipment graph. Basically, PC’s peaked at about 88 million per quarter 5 years ago, and have been steadily dropping ever since, down to about 70 million last quarter per IDC. Per that graph, PC shipping had dropped 18 million or about 20%.

    Meanwhile, Mac sales came in at 5.4 million, close to matching their all-time high of 5.5 million making the Mac’s market share about 7.7% worldwide. In other words, just by maintaining it’s shipments, Apple is continually gaining on the market share of Windows/PC.

    But there’s more: As Horace pointed out: “…the split between the two old rivals (Windows/MacOS) focuses the mind into a limited view of the computing market. The big change in computing has not been a growing Mac vs. declining PC. It has been a huge surge in mobile device use vs. a decline in PC use overall.”

    And nothing illustrates that better than the iPad. Note that the iPad and iOS are NOT included in the Statista survey. And yet, 13 million iPads were sold last quarter. And I have always argued that the iPad is a different form factor PC. Viewed that way, the percentage of iPads and Macs collectively hit 18.4 million last quarter, or 26% as many as PC’s.

    Now, where Microsoft’s Windows has the advantage is in legacy software. Can we determine what the legacy software is for Mac and PC? It would be difficult. But we know a couple of things: First, Macs have always been well built. Thus, like iPhones AND IPADS, they last longer than the average PC. Well, we can actually add up all the Macs that have been sold since, say 2009. That comes to 140 million. Same with iPads, coming out at 350 million. Likewise, we can estimate all the PC’s that were sold since 2009 from Horace’s graph. Assuming 80 million a quarter on average, that’s about 2.6 billion. Figure a quarter of the PC’s are still in service. That’s 650 million. Figure half the Macs are still in service (due to their greater quality). That’s 70 million. Figure half the iPads ever sold are still in service. That’s 175 million.

    The percentage of Macs still in service, assuming these totally guessed numbers, would be about 10%. Okay, that’s sort of in the ball park of Statista’s 6.2%. But what about total Macs and iPads versus PC’s?

    Total Macs and iPads still in service would equal 245 million. Total percentage of Macs/iPads versus PC’s still in service would thus equal about 38%.

    Wow. Something doesn’t add up. 38% is a whole lot more than 6.2%, or even 10%.

    What doesn’t add up is excluding iOS. Which I saw as one of Horace’s points in that earlier article.

  • Gene Grush

    When the iPad was first introduced it reached it’s mass market functional capability within a few short years for consumption(maturity of Apples processor chips was somewhat there at launch because of the iPhone). A large portion of people that wanted one got one in the first 4-5 years. Plus the devices are so reliable and the extra functionality of newer versions is not compelling. No reason to replace a fully functional iPad for a newer version until it dies. Your significant plot is the one you included for devices in service by year (what about one for the world) and another useful plot would be the average number of devices for the households that have at least one. I suspect that households are getting more than one (I have one for my media room and one for my pool). The most important take away is the additional opportunities for Apple to increase their service income by having more and more iPads in service. I love the iDisk feature since it gives me access to all my files on any device including my iPads. Software on iPads and iPhones is still buggy, but the Mac is great.

    One capability holding the iPad back is the ability to create. I bought an iPad Pro to see if I would use it for this function, but I still go to my Mac first. The iPad needs a “Finder equivalent for iDisk), multiple screen capability for the iPad and a mouse equivalent (the pen might grow into this) to really take off. Split screen just doesn’t cut it for heavy lift creation. I can have over 10 windows of 5 different programs on two screens on my Mac open. I know I am in the top 5 percent of power users, but added functionally is needed for creation. What if the iPads could talk to each other so that the master iPad can use the other iPads as added screen space. The limit on number of screens would be defined by the wireless band width. An instant control room for amazing content creation for any industry. What about a 65” iPad for school rooms and meeting rooms.

    Let the iPad evolve to a MacBook equivalent and let the power developers slowly migrate to the iPad. ISO than can be a true equivalent of MacOS and even better because it has added functionality for consumption. I don’t know if the sell rates will increase so much, but the user base definitely will. And if it starts to dominate desktop computing than Apple could consider a slow change over from MacOS to ISO. If it doesn’t the Mac will slowly increase is influence in the PC arena. Remember that the “Finder” is just an App (on ISO) if Apple wants it to be.

  • jameskatt

    If Apple places a touch screen on the Mac then there is no reason for the iPad’s existence.

    My preference is for Apple to also replace the keyboard and trackpad of the MacBook Pro with a touchscreen. This gets around Apple’s objection of the ergonomic problems of writing on a vertical screen. Now you can do write horizontally. A Dual Touchscreen MacBook immediately kills the iPad.

    Without the Mac, there would be no apps for the iPhone or iPad. The Mac is a much more important product since it is the foundation on which the iPhone and iPad are built.

    • Space Gorilla

      I’d bet on the iPad evolving into the devices you describe rather than touch being added to the Mac. It seems like a cleaner more elegant path. But I could be wrong.

  • realroz

    Question to me is, setting aside purchase numbers, are people still using these iPads. I don’t use mine so I figure others don’t too. If they really are sitting on the shelf, that puts this data around a decline in a different light. If people have adopted but are slow to replace, that would mean something else. A website with decent traffic could see usage with user agent data.

    • BMc

      Well, as counterpoint anecdotal information, my wife and I use ours every day.

      As for evidence that most people are likely still using them, you have customer satisfaction surveys, which show very high numbers. Surely if someone is not using a product it would show up in lower customer satisfaction. Further, Horace cited stats related to still increasing tablet ownership.

      • realroz

        Right I see that but iPad sales are weak. Suspect lower price will help some.

      • BMc

        Yes, iPad sales are down substantially from their peak. But that wasn’t the question you asked – which was are users still “using” them. No one knows the full set of answers of course, but much of the ‘sales are weak’ seem to be do to lack of upgraders, as many are happy with the job being done. iPad lifetime for users is much higher than iPhones, and may even be longer than Macs. There are a few analysts which try to estimate installed base, and the information appears to be that the installed user base continues to grow, pointing to eventual increase in upgrades. Only time will tell.

      • Shawn Dehkhodaei

        Sales are weak compared to what? What other tablet is selling better than the iPad? These are all relative. It’s a fortune 500 business by itself (not counting app store revenue). If you look at the numbers, the iPad makes more money that Acer, Asus and Toshiba combined !!! I’d say that’s pretty good. Sales are weak relative to it’s peak. But by that logic, Microsoft would have gone out of business already 🙂

      • realroz

        Sales are weak in comparison to previous quarters. I find it hard to believe that tablets have reached true market saturation so fast.

      • art hackett

        Seeing we’re into an anecdotal theme already, several acquaintances have moved from wintel to ipad, then get an iPhone to replace their previous unhappy phone experience, sometimes followed by Macs. They even admonish friends, who ask which iPad to get, then buy an android device recommended by salesmen (these are as good/better/cheaper than iPads) and wonder why Apple sells them such unfriendly devices they need help with.
        These acquaintances would never have touched Apple computing devices previously, even though (or especially because) I’ve used them for decades and suggested (no, not evangelised smartarse) they might be happier with the experience.
        The level of animosity towards Macs never ceases to astound me, so the rise of Apple also surprises me. Maybe that’s why Wall street always prices it as doomed.

      • Shawn Dehkhodaei

        The animosity towards Macs boils down to the fact that “techies” can’t tinker with it … hack it, twist it, corrupt it, etc. That’s what pisses them off. They want devices that can be jacked and corrupted. If you look at car aficionados, they almost all hate Tesla …. not because of performance … because they can’t tinker with it, or “pimp it up”. I think it goes back to this retarded idea of “customizing” the system (hardware) to your liking. In addition, there is ignorance and stupidity, which is a limitless resource in this planet.

      • “techies” can’t tinker with it

        That’s not my experience. I’ve found, since 1985 when I bought my first Mac, that the animosity and misunderstanding towards Apple and its products extends from the enthusiast to the everyday consumer as well.

    • Yes you can look at web access statistics, but that doesn’t necessarily give you a good idea of what’s going on. I’ve attached data from StatCounter, and you can see that tablets are faring better than PCs, but are losing relative to smartphones.

      Add to this that tablet users tend to use apps instead of a browser for a lot of their needs. Also consider that tablets may be used more for games and videos rather than quick information lookup. With all these complexities, it’s unlikely that web stats give you an apples to apples comparison.

      My take is that looking at aggregate purchase or usage data is of limited value if our aim is to truly understand where tablets as a platform will go. Tablets serve a wide variety of purposes, some which will be lost to large screen phones, and some which will not. Some of these were quick to be recognised by consumers and drove initial sales, but some were adopted only very slowly and are only now starting to ramp up. Looking deep inside is, in my opinion, the only way to understand.

      • realroz

        Did not see this before and appreciate it. There is a way there to isolate tablet by OS and it looks like iOS tablets are holding steady at around 65% share (which seems healthy) – and the tablet category is stable versus desktop and phone.
        The untold story is the decline of Windows, especially in compared to Android – not that that comparison is so meaningful for a given category but maybe it is in terms of time on device for a lot of users. People are shifting usage to Android devices and Windows is losing share to it.

    • I use mine a lot. Basically when I’m done for the day, I can “turn off” by switching to the iPad, so I’m not tempted to sit there and work on customer tickets all evening. I’ve been doing more and more writing in WordPress, which is completely device agnostic. Obviously some things, like running Windows in Parallels or doing complex Apple scripts, can’t be done on an iPad.

      • realroz

        Makes sense. Actually, saw someone at a conference using an iPad Pro XL with pencil using some sort of Windows emulator. Kind of a crazy way to get Surface functionality from an iPad.
        Question, when you use your iPad, is it more oriented to portrait or landscape?

  • katherine anderson

    In Southeast Asia, the smartphone is the telephone, the mall, the marketplace, and most of all the living room. This is according to Singapore-born media entrepreneur Patrick Grove … the smartphone is the device people watch their movies and television on … an “audience” of 300+ million, and growing by 2 million every month.

    You can’t help but imagine the massive potential for iPad in Asia, as the more pleasurable video-viewing choice over the smartphone. Perhaps that is one reason for Apple’s recent move to bring iPad’s pricing down. iPad is not only the obvious better choice for video viewing, but combined with voice communication apps and pre-owned refurbishment plans, iPad will perhaps become the more economical choice to iPhone’s android imitators.

    Patrick Grove is behind IFLIX, which is out to conquer video streaming in the ASEAN nations …”a 2-billion addressable audience”… he’s also the Catcha Group, and recently entered a partnership with media mogul John Malone’s Liberty Global. As the media/entertainment sphere heats up, we’ll be hearing a great deal more from these two dynamos, a father and son age difference between them.

    And who knows … before too long we may also be hearing news about Grove and Malone that includes news of a partnership with Apple.

  • Thanks for your comments. I gotta say, I am a huge iPad fan, and use mine several hours each day. There especially good to take while traveling, if you have a data connection. Imagine roaming around Europe with an iPad with data? That would be the best thing ever. We also love using them as credit card terminals at conventions.