Apple, Inc.'s iPad Business Is Struggling for 3 Reasons

Apple's iPad business continues to disappoint investors.

Apr 27, 2014 at 11:00AM

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) reported a strong quarter on Wednesday, with profits exceeding analysts' expectations. Revenue was a beat; iPhone and Mac sales came in much better than expected. Gross margin, which had been trending down, bounced back.

Yet, there was one glaring weakness in the report: iPad sales (16.35 million) fell far short of estimates (19.7 million) -- Apple's tablet business declined 16% on a year-over-year basis. This isn't just a one-off instance, but a troubling trend. With the exception of the holiday shopping season, the iPad has fallen short of expectations in nearly every quarter for the last year. But why?

Longer replacement cycles
While smartphones are typically replaced on a biennial basis, tablets are kept for a longer period of time. Research firms, including IDC, have noted that a maturing tablet market poses a challenge to manufacturers, as consumers see little reason to upgrade from their existing devices.

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, in a survey of some 2,000 consumers, noted that iPads tend to be used in ways much more comparable to devices with longer replacement cycles (PCs, TVs) rather than shorter ones (smartphones). iPad owners take their time replacing a lost or broken unit, and are much more likely to hand their iPad down to a friend or family member.

In short, while Apple can rely on its loyal customers to buy a new iPhone every two years or so, the same can't be said for iPad buyers.

No carrier support
That regular, two-year replacement cycle is largely the byproduct of a wireless industry willing to subsidize the cost of a new handset every two years. When a wireless contract expires, iPhone owners upgrade to a new model -- and Apple gets another sale.

iPads, in contrast, are overwhelmingly separate from the carrier complex. Sure, you can buy one of Apple's tablets through a major carrier, but very people few do. Last year, analyst Craig Moffett estimated that 80% of tablets sold in the U.S. do not sport wireless chips and only 5% are actually connected to wireless networks at any given time. Analyst Chetan Sharma came to a similar conclusion in 2012, noting that only 10% of U.S. tablets relied on wireless networks.

The separation of device and network has another component -- it allows Apple to be more easily undercut in price. Apple remains the single largest manufacturer of tablets, but its overall market share has slipped, surpassed by Android-powered tablets last year. Android tablets are available for a fraction of the price of iPads, and many of them are just as capable. Admittedly, this is no different from the phone market -- many Android handsets are available at a fraction of the cost of iPhones, and so far, that hasn't had much of an impact on the iPhone business.

But there's a crucial distinction between the two -- whereas iPhones are subsidized by the carriers or financed over 24 months, iPads have no such advantage. Consumers purchasing a new tablet have to pay the entire purchase price up front -- making a cheaper Android alternative far more enticing.

A weakening tablet market
Finally, one trend affecting both Apple and its Android-powered competitors is a tablet market that, overall, is showing signs of weakness. Last month, IDC cut its estimates for tablet sales, projecting the market to grow less than 20% in 2014. If that's the case, it will a sharp drop from last year, when the tablet market grew by more than 50%.

The growing popularity of smartphones with larger screens may be having some effect on tablet demand, particularly in emerging markets. Last year, IDC reported that phablets outsold both tablets and PCs in most Asian markets during the second quarter. These phones boast screen sizes between five and seven inches, calling into question the need to own a separate tablet.

The iPad company
During its first two years on the market, the iPad experienced rapid growth, selling faster than any of the products that had preceded it. Some projected that, one day, Apple would become the "iPad company" -- its tablet business looked on track to eventually overtake the iPhone.

At this point, that notion looks to be thoroughly shattered. Barring drastic changes to its tablet strategy, Apple's tablet business should continue to disappoint.

Bigger than the iPad, here's Apple's next revolutionary product
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers