iPad Sales Shrink, Apple CEO Chides Hybrid Tablets, Android, and Microsoft
April 24, 2014 1:38 PM
Tim Cook offers many interesting theories as to why the tablet market is growing, but iPad sales are shrinking
showering shareholders with $90B USD cash
via a 7-to-1 stock split -- just over half of Apple's roughly $170B USD cash pile (including fiscal Q2 2014 profit and long term investments) -- sent shares of Apple, Inc. (
) rising and investors humming a happy tune, one part of Apple's earnings report unsettled analysts.
I. Asked About Slow Sales, Office, Tim Cook Chides Microsoft for Slow Launch
The iPad had sold:
Q2 2013 (Jan.-Mar. 2013): 19.5 million
Q1 2014 (Oct.-Dec. 2013): 26 million
Q2 2014 (Jan.-Mar. 2014): 16.35 million
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice the trend there -- sales of the iPad, the world's most popular tablet computer, have hit a slump after a strong holiday season. Combined with basically flat quarterly Mac computer sales and weak iPhone growth (~17% on a year-to-year basis) by Apple's standards, and this red flag becomes even noisier.
Apple CEO Tim Cook
offered a somewhat odd non-sequitur in that he simultaneously praised rival Microsoft Corp. (
) for its high profile launch of
an Office 365 app for the iPad
, yet also seemed to perhaps imply that Microsoft's "slowness" to release that app had hurt the iPad.
iPad sales are in the doldrums because of Microsoft Office?
During the earnings call's Q&A segment UBS Securities (UBS AG (
)) Steven Milunovich asked Tim Cook about the slow iPad sales, perhaps nudging him towards the Microsoft Office tie in. He
Tim, I understand that the iPad is not as weak as it appears on a sell-through basis, but still it's relatively flat over the last year in terms of sell-through. What are your thoughts in terms of why that is and can that accelerate with Office on the iPad going forward?
Tim Cook, Apple CEO [Image Source: Mashable]
Office; I believe does help. It's very unclear to say how much. I believe if it would have been done earlier, it would have been even better for Microsoft frankly, there is a lots of alternatives out there from a productivity point of view, some of which we brought to the market, some of which many, many innovative companies have brought. But I do see that Office is still a very key franchise in the enterprise, in particular. I think having it on iPad is good, and I wholeheartedly welcome Microsoft to the App Store to sell Office. Our customers are clearly responding in a good way that it's available.
The response sort of makes sense, but one must wonder what good it does to complain about Microsoft not having released the software earlier. Apple, of course,
offers its own first-party solution iWork
for the iPad.
Tim Cook did try to emphasize the strong points of the iPad's sales. He emphasized in another part of his lengthy, winding response that the iPad had sold 210 million total units to date. He remarks:
When I backup from iPad, here is what I see. It absolutely has been the fastest growing product in Apple's history, and it's been the only product that we've ever made that was instantly a hit in three of our key markets, from consumer to business including the enterprise and education.
He also pointed to that Apple had a
95 percent market share in educational deployments
Microsoft's free giveaways
, apparently), and that 98 percent of the Fortune 500 were using the iPad in some way.
II. Cook Offers Vague Aspersion About Hybrids
Other parts of Tim Cook's response were also somewhat odd and defensive, though. He seemed to imply that Apple's slump to 46 percent of the tablet market sales in the U.S. was the result of miscategorization.
Presumbably he's talking about hybrid form factors
Microsoft's Surface 2
or the numerous transformable tablet computers that run Google Inc.'s (
) Android operating system.
Tim Cook doesn't believe hybrid tablets are really tablets.
But he fails to ever really explain what he means, stating:
In the retail market, if you look at the U.S. as a proxy, the NPD numbers for March just came out a few days ago and we had 46% share and embedded in that 46%, there's a lot of things in there that I personally wouldn't put in the same category as iPad, and that are weighing the share down. It's certainly a market we wouldn't play in and in a type of product you would never see an Apple brand on.
Perhaps Tim Cook has learned a lesson from public blowback over comments from the late CEO Steve Jobs that
seemed to imply smaller tablet and larger phone form factors were useless
. Perhaps by keeping his complaints as vague as possible, if Apple later sees a strategic advantage in making, say, a hybrid tablet, he won't face quite as resounding a "told you so" from critics. But the alternative -- making such vague and bitter complaints -- seems almost worse that Steve Jobs' approach.
III. Apple Still Struggling to Figure Out Supply and Demand Balance Under Cook
The other parts of the Q&A were equally cryptic.
As he did with the iPhone 5C miss
in Q1 2014 (Oct.-Dec. 2013) he blamed some sort of overproduction (or underproduction?) scenario. He
iPad sales came in at the high end of our expectations, but we realized they were below analysts' estimates and I would like to proactively address why we think there was a difference. We believe almost all of the difference can be explained by two factors. First, in the March quarter last year we significantly increased iPad channel inventory, while this year we significantly reduced it. Luca will go into more detail about this later.
It makes sense that Apple would balance supply and demand but Mr. Cook's wording is troublingly ambiguous. He could be alluding that Apple underproduced to try to avoid excess inventory. Or his comment could perhaps allude to drops in price of some models. But that would be yet another non-sequitur as if anything you'd expect lower prices would stoke more sales. Or perhaps he's saying that Apple overproduced in Q2 2013 and sold the iPad at lower prices to try to temporarily reduce excess inventory resulting in a somewhat artificial temporary jump in Q2 2013 iPad sales?
He perhaps hints at the latter possibility in Q2 2013's earnings call, in which he stated (the grammar is a bit odd, possibly garbled by Morningstar's transcription):
These compares are made further challenging until we anniversary the launch of the iPad mini, which as you know we strategically priced at a lower margin.
The phrase to note is "strategically priced".
iPad mini with Retina Display
If he was telling investors something in his first point, they shouldn't expect much from his second point which basically repeats his first point
about supply-demand imbalance
in Q2 2013 versus a more balanced Q2 2014.
Second, we ended the December quarter last year with a substantial backlog of iPad mini that was subsequently shipped in the March quarter whereas we ended the December quarter this year near supply demand balance. We continue to believe that the tablet market will surpass the PC market in size within the next few years, and we believe that Apple will be a major beneficiary of this trend.
The final part of that response it really peculiar, in that it seemingly casts Apple in a very negative light. His comment doesn't really speak to the iPad sales slump at all -- if anything it highlights its severity by clearly stating that the market Apple is competing in is growing, but Apple's sales in that market are shrinking.
IV. Apple Says It's "Anti-Doing Something That's Not Strategic"
There's plenty of other places where Tim Cook appeared to be on the defensive. In an interview with
The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Cook defended Apple's decision to be less aggressive in terms of acquisitions, instead opting to push the cash out to shareholders (something some shareholders have long been noisily clamoring for).
, Inc. (
) he comments [sources:
From an acquisition point of view, we've made 24 bids in 18 months, showing that we're on the prowl. Obviously, we’re on the prowl. We’re not anti- getting a big company. What we’re anti- doing is doing something that’s not strategic. We’re not looking to pay the most and get the most buzz out of it.
(There's a bit of a discrepancy --
reports that Mr. Cook just said that Apple bid on 24 companies, not that it necessarily bought all of them.
report says Apple bought 24 companies.)
Tim Cook sort of seems to insult Google and Facebook's
acquisition strategies in a roundabout way.
Tim Cook also took the opportunity in the Q&A segment to take a potshot at Android. He comments:
I would just add to that, because we are not fragmented like our competition, we can update an OS with a major release and a substantial percentage of our customers will update to our latest software.
While Tim Cook's response to this slump is less than decisive and a bit troubling, it's not necessarily atypical of his reign at Apple. He's earned a reputation for at times offering odd or offensive remarks, such as
his rant about Europe, which he later apologized about
. At times it seems as if Mr. Cook is struggling with the unenviable challenge of running one of the world's most profitable companies, a company that was long regarded as a key trend setter.
So there you have it -- Apple is pure and unfragmented, but shrinking in the fast-growing tablet market. And if you want to know why you have to learn to decode Tim Cook's cryptic comments. Were it Steve Jobs at the helm still, investors would likely receive a blunt -- if perhaps biased -- view on the issue. Instead in the new era of Apple they're left to decode the web of words Apple's new leadership is weaving.
Apple Q2 2014 Earnings Call Q&A on Morningstar
Apple Q2 2014 Earnings Call on Morningstar
"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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