1

It may be a little early to start writing off Apple as the next fading titan a la Microsoft or Nokia, but the latest tablet sales report from the International Data Corporation confirm the impression that it’s not all sunshine and apple blossom right now in Cupertino.

The latest issue of IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker shows the first recent quarter-on-quarter decline in worldwide tablet shipments, “as total volumes fell -9.7% from 1Q13. However, the 45.1 million units shipped in the second quarter was up 59.6% from the same quarter in 2012, when tablet vendors shipped 28.3 million devices.”

That three-monthly decline in tablet shipping numbers looks more like a maturing and steadying market to me than the backlash against tablets that some booksellers and conservatives have apparently been hoping for.

The real meat in the material lies in the numbers for the iPad. “Lacking a new product launch in March to help spur shipments, Apple’s iPad saw a lower-than-predicted shipment total of 14.6 million units for the quarter, down from 19.5 million in 1Q13,” IDC continues. “In years past, Apple has launched a new tablet heading into the second quarter, which resulted in strong quarter-over-quarter growth. Now, Apple is expected to launch new tablet products in the second half of the year.”

Commentators have been quick to jump on the iPad’s loss in market share—still at 32.4 percent as of June 2013, but in reverse by 14.1 percent. As others point out, it’s the year-on-year picture that cuts the iPad’s market share off at the knees, from 60 percent in 2Q2012 to the reported just over 32 percent in 2Q2013.

There are plenty more optimistic reports to the effect that the quarter-on-quarter decline in particular is due to consumers holding off and waiting for the new upgraded version of the iPad Mini, with a Retina Display and other incremental improvements which will still make it a ferocious competitor.

“A new iPad launch always piques consumer interest in the tablet category and traditionally that has helped both Apple and its competitors,” said IDC’s own Tom Mainelli, Research Director, Tablets. “With no new iPads, the market slowed for many vendors, and that’s likely to continue into the third quarter. However, by the fourth quarter we expect new products from Apple, Amazon, and others to drive impressive growth in the market.”

Some insist that Apple’s pending iPad Mini release has turned Google’s new upgraded Nexus 7 2 into “a frozen turkey.” (And if that’s the case, I’ll warm up my microwave for an early Thanskgiving.) This ignores the fact that the iPad Mini itself was a catch-up product, released to try to recapture a product sub-category redefined by the original Nexus 7. The 7-inch generic tablet is now an industry standard, and who will ever forget Tim Cook and Apple’s embarrassing somersaults to try and convince us that the iPad Mini was breakthrough and original because it gave us a whole extra 0.9 inches?

“Apple realized that it stood to lose millions in iPad sales to the new Nexus 7 2 with its flashy high-resolution screen and it leaked the Retina iPad mini story to the WSJ to freeze the market,” asserts ZDNet’s Jason D. O’Grady. Perhaps so, but does that sound like a market leader barnstorming its own self-created category through sheer technological genius? Not to me. FUD used to be Microsoft’s ploy and cover for loss of leadership, even if you do buy this argument that being late to market is suddenly a mark of Apple’s resurgent brilliance.

Above all, it doesn’t matter what happens to the new Nexus 7, which I’m betting will continue to be a huge success. The entire tablet space has changed in a way that Apple cannot hope to deal with. No matter how good the new iPad Mini is (and repeat, this started life as a copy of *someone else’s* innovation), is there any way that it could really claw back a significant portion of that that lost market share? I absolutely doubt it.

And if you combine that with the Department of Justice’s pressure for a more draconian settlement on the media that Apple is allowed to pump via those iPads, in the face of continuing Apple arrogance, as well as other PR coups, then it looks to me that Cupertino has a huge problem on its hands – what’s more, one largely of its own making. Come on, Apple: You have Rush Limbaugh coming to your defense? What should that tell you?

 
1