Ten Million Apple Tablets? A Little Historical Frame of Reference

By  |  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.

Total sales of Apple I, 1976-1977: about 200

Apple II units sold, 1977-1982: 750,000

Apple II units sold, 1982: 300,000

Total Apple III units sold, 1980-1984: 65,000

Original 1984 Macs sold in first 74 days: 50,000

Original 1984 Macs sold in first year: 250,000

Macs sold, October-December 1993: one million

Macs sold, 1995:  4.7 million

iMacs sold in first 139 days: 800,000

iPod during first full year: 378,000

iPod at 5 1/2 years: 100 million

iPod at 8 years: 225 million

Total original iPhones sold: 6.1 million

iPhone at 46 weeks: six million

iPhone/iPod Touch at 20 months: 30 million

iPhone, July-September 2009: 7.4 million

Macs sold by Apple in fiscal year 2009: ten million

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.”

 
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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Constable Odo Says:

    Rather interesting article. But now you also need to throw in the factor of Apple’s retail stores which can really get up close to consumers. Both Apple retail stores and if Apple decides to further expand tablet sales to other retail outlets. Plus Apple has really gone global and Europe sales are doing very well. Apple has a lot more going for it now than it did even when the iPhone was first introduced. There wasn’t even a mobile SDK at the time. Apple has so much more now to drive tablet sales that those numbers for earlier products mean very little.

    Tech-smart people are the worst to judge what the tech-stupid people will be interested in buying. If Amazon can sell a Kindle and have moderate success, it should be a breeze for Apple to sell more tablets than Amazon.

  2. Drew Says:

    The are a few questions I have; who is the target for this tablet? Is to to replace a laptop, supplement a laptop? A lot of people have made tablets, but they never seem to catch on. Will the lack of a keyboard be an issue? The Amazon Kindle was offered as a example, but that is 25% of the “less than $1,000″ price. $999 is less than $1,000.

    If this thing comes off, I think it will be a big hit, but if it is priced around $1,000, it seems it might be hard to hit 10 million units.

    Now, it if was priced around say $700, that could be something very different.

  3. KenC Says:

    Considering that Apple only sells 10M Macs in a year, I think 10M tablets is a bit much, so I wouldn’t put any credence in what any Googler says. Factor in that it’s highly unlikely to come at the start of this year, then it’s even more unlikely.

    An expansion of the iPhone and touch lines would likely lead to greater sales than an expansion of the Mac line. I still think a 5″ folding iPhone would be best. 5″ is just two 3.5″ screens.

  4. Sir Pent Says:

    Apple/Mac people are loyal…and more and more people are switching over OR switching back. Personally, I love Macs and we use them to record the drums for our LIZARDS FROM AFAR virtual band. Download our music for free at:
    http://reverbnation.com/lizardsfromafar

  5. britmic Says:

    could the IsLate be a thin client with the ability to run an ARD or RDP session on your existing devices using a multitouch interface.

    or maybe a iPhone OS “fat” client with ARD or RDP

  6. evilbillcosby Says:

    awesome content

    thanks

  7. Drew Says:

    Britmic-I am sorry-can you explain what an ARD or RDP session is? Would that be like a Remote Desktop Connection in Windows? Are you talking about a tablet connecting to say a desktop mac in the same room? Thanks! -Drew

  8. Cathy Says:

    > Macs sold by Apple in fiscal year 2009: ten million

    Isn’t that a total for ALL models in their complete line-up?

    Very different than comparing it to 1 model: A new and totally untested iSlate.

  9. Joshna Says:

    I am anxiously awaiting Kindle 2.0 and I’ll tell you why – ergonomics. I really, really wanted to like the Kindle. The concept of having your entire library in a small, searchable electronics device that didn’t melt your eyes like staring at a computer screen does really appealed to me. I’m an avid reader of novels, computer books, and lots of other things. An electronic reader with an E-Ink screen made sense. The Sony E-Reader looked good, but lacks the content that Amazon’s Kindle offers. I think that almost everything about the Kindle is great, but – the ergonomics are terrible!

  10. Larry Says:

    Now that we know iPad is NOT a tablet computer, or ever will be, but is just a big iTouch box office for iTunes and the iPhone app store to sell media and apps to with a web browser in it, really an appliance not a computer, isn’t it time to take down these wrong guesses and quit trying to sell it like it’s going to be a tablet when Apple will never allow it to become a tablet to ruin overpriced Macbook, especially Mac Air sales?

    To say iPad is a tablet hides its true purpose, which is to sell apps and media to the masses. Computers have ports and accessible storage and do useful things, which like iTouch, this thing never will.

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