By Harry McCracken | Friday, January 1, 2010 at 11:03 am
Apple rumor of the moment: Former Google, Microsoft, and Apple executive Kai-Fu Lee has blogged that he’s heard Apple thinks it can sell ten million “iSlate” tablet computers in its first year on the market. (I persist in putting quotes around “iSlate” since we don’t know if that’s the product’s name, assuming there is a product at all.)
That ten-million tablet is merely a rumor, albeit one spread by a smart guy who may have excellent sources. It certainly sounds ambitious. But how ambitious is it? For the sake of comparison, I dug up some sales figures for other Apple products–starting with the Apple I, and including both numbers reported by Apple and some third-party estimates. Here they are, after the jump.
The benchmark for successful sales keeps changing, of course: Back in 1982, selling 300,000 Apple II computers was an extraordinary achievement, considering that it was a pricey product in a category which most households and businesses hadn’t yet adopted. And the fact that Apple only managed to sell 378,000 iPods in that gizmo’s first year is explained by the fact that the first iPod only worked with Macs, not Windows PCs–more than 95 percent of computer owners couldn’t have used an iPod no matter how much they craved one.
It’s also impossible to gauge the ten-million tablet rumor without knowing how much the tablet will sell for. Lee’s rumor merely places the price at “under $1,000,” which isn’t very helpful given that nobody would expect it to sell for over $1,000.
But this much is interesting: If Apple does sell ten million tablets in 2010, and you count the tablet as a computer, and Mac sales are neither radically higher nor radically lower than they were in the last fiscal year, then Apple thinks it can sell roughly as many tablets a year as it does Macs.
That’s a lot of assumptions, and they don’t factor in the possibility that an Apple tablet might cannibalize sales of Macs (or that the tablet may turn out to be a Mac, or at least more Mac-like than most people expect it to be).
One last thing: At the January, 2007 Macworld Expo keynote at which the iPhone was announced, Steve Jobs famously said the company was shooting to sell ten million iPhones in 2008. Even well into 2008, there was still plenty of skepticism about the company’s ability to make that goal. (Charles Jade at Ars Technica: “…one can see why analysts with advanced degrees in business and economics might doubt. It’s a good thing Steve Jobs dropped out of college.”)
Apple ended up selling just short of 13.7 million iPhones in calendar year 2008. Which is evidence that most of us in the outside world aren’t very good at crunching Apple’s numbers for it–even when we know vastly more than we do about the “iSlate.”