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iPocalypse now?: iPad sales "collapse" and the Web freaks

All based on one analyst's one-month estimate of display shipments

By , Network World
March 06, 2013 10:00 AM ET

Network World - Based on one market researcher's estimate of a one-month fall in 9.7-inch tablet display shipments, a range of tech news sites and bloggers are announcing, if not trumpeting, the apocalyptic "collapse" of Apple's iPad sales.

It's yet another case of using a single data point, of unknown accuracy, as the basis for a mare's nest of assumptions and biases about Apple products.

[Our hands on test -- Tablet Wars: Microsoft Surface RT v. Apple iPad]

The data is from David Hsieh, an analyst with NPD's DisplaySearch unit who blogged some excerpts from a new report - the "Monthly TFT LCD Shipment Database" -- on the company's website. Keep in mind that the full-size iPad is the only popular tablet using the 9.7-inch diagonal display.

The blogpost's key passage - the one being seized upon by the tech sites - is this: "Shipments of 9.7" tablet PC panels collapsed, falling from 7.4 to 1.3M, while 7"and 7.9"panel shipments grew rapidly, from 12 to 14M....The January panel shipment data may be an indicator for 2013, starting with Apple's product mix shift."

It could also be an indicator of a host of other things. It's important to keep in mind that this is DisplaySearch's estimate, based apparently on talks with various component suppliers in Asia for only one month. DisplaySearch did not respond to an email asking follow-up questions on Hsieh's blogpost.

The Web reaction to Hsieh's estimates are eerily reminiscent of the January reaction to equally apocalyptic speculation that Apple's iPhone 5 sales were also "collapsing," because of an exactly similar claim that Apple had sharply decreased its order for iPhone 5 displays. [See Forbes' contributor Mark Rogowsky's dissection of the assumptions and misreporting in that case.]

"Sales for iPad collapse: Report says iPad mini may be the culprit" screams the headline at Examiner.com. 

The writer, Frank Ling, accepts Hsieh's numbers at face value, apparently without actually thinking about them. He concludes that "as these full-sized tablets started to become more popular, the consumer trend was going in the opposite direction towards smaller-sized tablets."

"With the huge success of 7-inch tablets such as Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and Google's Nexus 7, Apple could no longer stand by its original founder's wishes and moved into the niche of small tablets," he declares. "The iPad mini now outsells the iPad 4 and no doubt, Apple has more plans to produce smaller tablet sizes that will probably go down to 5-inches...."

The usually more thoughtful Sameer Singh, who analyzes the mobile market at his TechThoughts blog, also accepted and repeated the "collapse."

"Unless Apple has a new full-size iPad on the way with a 10.1" display, this strongly hints at a collapse in sales because of cannibalization from the iPad Mini," he writes. "My iPad Mini cannibalization estimate was far more aggressive than others, but actual cannibalization seems even worse."

He believes it "strongly hints" at collapse because he believes that display shipments, by manufacturers to OEMs, are a reliable indicator of future shipments of the finished tablets. But the question here is whether a one-month decrease is a response to crashing iPad retail sales, or one of a multitude of possible tweaks to Apple's complex supply chain.

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