The next 100 million iPads

It took Apple two and a half years to ship out a100 million iPads, selling the next 100 million will now depend on how the iPad Mini fares.

Having reached 100 million iPads shipped in 2.5 years the natural question is how long will it take for the next 100 million iPads?

The ramp of cumulative units shipped is shown below.



I also added the equivalent ramp for the iPhone. [The last data point for the iPad is based on an estimate of 16.5 million units in Q3 which may need revision depending on company reporting.]

The next 100 million will depend to a large degree on the success of the new iPad mini. To make an estimate we have to realise that there are several aspects of the tablet market which differ from the phone market and that therefore the predictive power for previous data is weak.

First, the channels are different. Tablets are sold as media consumption or “computing” products. They are not sold as communication devices. Therefore operators have few incentives to promote and subsidise them. They do participate in the distribution but not with the same level of commitment. That means less “push” and opportunity for discovery. Apple has an advantage in this case with their stores and brand value. The lack of operator engagement and lack of points of sale might be one reason why Android tablets have not ramped as quickly.

Second, for some competitors, the tablet itself is a loss leader and acts more as a terminal into an ecosystem rather than a product in itself. In cases where tablets are given away it’s possible that consumers might own one for each platform or ecosystem. This is similar to the game console model where the cost of the console is not a barrier to many avid gamers. This means that penetration of tablets can reach above 100 per cent of users in some markets. Although network connections (i.e. SIM cards) can and do reach well above 100 per cent, the number of phones in use by one person simultaneously is bounded.

Third, the lifetime of the product is as yet undetermined. Phones tend to last two years. This is due to evolving standards as well as high wear and tear and breakage or losses. Tablets are not as “mobile” and are less likely to be used and the basic functionality does not evolve as rapidly. It’s possible that replacement rates for tablets will follow more that of notebook computers than phones. There will be some obsolescence from system upgrades, but the older systems will keep going.

Some of these aspects of the product could lead to slower growth and some to faster growth. That and the fact that it’s a completely new category with business and consumer and educational and vertical applications makes it a difficult product to forecast.

Having said that, the product is extremely resonant with buyers. The growth to 100 million is testament to that. The liquidity of the product, with no carrier locking and no pricing illusions means that it reaches all parts of the world quickly. So there is no obvious upper bound on the size of population who might buy it. The new price points and form factor may lead to a wave of new adoption, similar to the impact the iPod mini had on the iPod line.

There are still many factors that can slow growth, especially production capacity, but I believe that the iPad could growth between 50 per cent and 80 per cent which would mean 100 million more iPads could be sold by the end of 2013. 

Horace Dediu is founder and managing director of Asymco, a Helsinki-based app developer/industry analysis advisory firm. You can find his blog here.

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