Apple Partners: iPad, Macbook Can Coexist

Despite reports that Apple's iPad is cannibalizing sales of notebook PCs, Apple partners say there's plenty of room in the market for both types of computing devices.

In a study released Thursday, market research firm Technology Business Research (TBR) found that a third of buyers replaced or will replace their PC with an iPad, and half use their iPad as their primary computing device. From these findings, TBR concludes that the tablet is a threat to displace many consumers' secondary PCs.

Earlier this week, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn was quoted in The Wall Street Journal saying his company had seen iPad sales cannibalizing the traditional notebook market by as much as fifty percent.

However, TBR tempered its forecast by saying that most consumers will still own a PC over the next few years, but will increasingly leverage other devices, especially tablets, for portability and connectivity.

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"Tablets will displace sales of consumers' secondary laptop PCs, while their primary PC will continue to maintain its role for tasks such as document creation, storing files and editing photographs," Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst at TBR, said in the report.

Though the report went on to say the tablet would establish itself in both consumer and business markets, Apple partners don't see cannibalization as a problem. In fact, they believe the iPad has helped revitalize a sluggish tablet market.

"As long as Apple continues to emphasize mobility, they tend to create new categories, to change the market," said Shane Spiess, president of Portland, Oregon-based Apple reseller MacForce. "No one cared about the tablet until the iPad came around."

Spiess acknowledged that some cannibalization may occur with low-end Macbooks, but added that "a lot of people we see buying the iPad already have Macbooks."

"The iPad will affect notebook sales, but not necessarily Apple notebook sales," said David Doyle, vice president of Vancouver-based Apple partner Simply Computing. "A lot of the people buying the iPad are first-time Mac users. I haven't seen a drop in Macbook sales and I don't see them ever replacing Macbooks."

"The iPad is often positioned for work, as well as being a consumer device. Our point-of sales system runs on a PC server, which we can also run on the iPad," Doyle said.

"You can give the iPad to kids and not worry about them erasing your data," Doyle said, "but when I really need to sit down to work I want a real computer. It's like how the toaster will never replace the oven. Its not threatening because you still want comfort of use."

Next:Apple Partners Weigh in on Future of iPad

Nick Gold, director of business development at Chesapeake Systems, a Baltimore, Md.-based Apple partner, is also optimistic about the viability of the tablet market segment.

Despite reports of the iPad eating into notebook PC sales, Gold believes there is room in the market for both devices. "I'm not threatened by this, I'm very encouraged by it. I own both and while I use my iPad almost entirely at home, at work I use both, primarily the laptop," he said.

Spiess says many of his employees are moving to the iPad as a primary device but still own Macbooks, which they use for both home and business scenarios.

"A lot of it has to do with software development for iPad," Spiess said. "We need to see something from Microsoft in order to give the iPad legitimacy. There are still some pieces missing, like a version of Office for iPad and iOS in the bigger picture."

Spiess also mentioned the version of the "Pages" application for iPad was not quite as a robust as on a Macbook, citing the ability to work with files, and open and send spreadsheets.

"Those tools are starting to show up, like Firemaker Go. It's not the full-blown version," he said referring to the original Firemaker for Apple laptops. "But that's not what anyone expected."

A third Apple partner, Michael Oh, founder and CEO of Boston-based Apple reseller Tech Superpowers, sees the iPad as a very positive development for Apple resellers, even though Apple doesn't yet allow them to sell it.

"With our market, we're very fortunate a lot of people are already Mac PC users. They're using it to supplement rather than to replace their Mac computers," Oh said. He cited Omnifocus, a productivity application with a different interface for the iPad, as an example. "They work well together: one that's mobile, you can take to meetings, and one that can sit on your desktop."

Clearly, Apple partners see the iPad as a device that supplements notebook PCs instead of replacing them. Retailers like Best Buy may not like a sub-$500 product from Apple, but many Apple resellers are glad to see it.

"It's only going to drive the amount of content generated for consumers," Gold said. "The growth of one feeds the other in this great feedback loop. We've only seen the beginning of huge opportunities."