NPD: Don’t Blame Declining PC Sales on iPad

Sales of PCs may be “floundering,” but don’t blame it on the iPad, according to market research firm NPD. The company issued a report on Tuesday that said only a small percentage of iPad owners forwent a PC purchase, meaning that the effect on the much larger PC market was minimal. NPD said that its research shows that iPad sales provided billions of dollars in incremental revenue to the industry — that is, above and beyond what sales would have been otherwise.

“The explosion of computer sales when Windows 7 launched, as well as the huge increase in netbook sales at that time, are much more to blame for weak consumer PC sales growth than the iPad,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD, said in a statement. “Overall it appears that the vast majority of iPad purchases to-date have been incremental to the consumer technology industry.”

This is in direct contradiction to reports from competing firms who reported earlier this year that the media tablet (as defined by the iPad) was specifically responsible for declining PC sales.

In April, IDC issued a report that said “good enough computing ” has become a reality, meaning that both netbooks and media tablets offer an experience that is close enough to using a dedicated computer, and that sales of legacy devices are waning because of this. IDC said that PC sales dipped 3.2% during the first quarter of 2011.

“The real question PC vendors have to think hard about is how to enable a compelling user experience that can justify spending on the added horsepower,” Jay Chou, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, said in a statement at the time of the report.

In November, Gartner lowered its forecast for PC sales in 2010, and pinned it explicitly on the iPad.

“These results reflect marked reductions in expected near-term unit growth based on expectations of weaker consumer demand, due in no small part to growing user interest in media tablets such as the iPad,” Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. “Over the longer term, media tablets are expected to displace around 10 percent of PC units by 2014.”

This simply isn’t the case, according to NPD’s new report. Mr. Baker wrote in his report that, “The conventional wisdom that says tablet sales are eating into low- priced notebooks is most assuredly incorrect.”

NPD said that 14 percent of early iPad adopters blew off a planned PC purchase for an iPad. Looking at just those iPad owners who bought their device during the 2010 holiday shopping season, NPD said that the figure dropped to just 12 percent.

So who’s to blame for those falling PC sales? NPD said that a burst of sales of Windows 7 PCs in 2009 effectively consumed more than its fair share of forward demand, and that the same is true of an increase in netbook sales at the time.

In the current market, NPD said that sales of sub $500 netbooks have increased by 21%, while the over-$500 netbook market has seen a 25% decline in the six months ending arch 2011. The firm did not note that this just happens to be the price range where Apple competes with the iPad.

There were two more tidbits from NPD’s report. The first is that wireless carriers have only been responsible for some 3% of iPad’s unit sales. The company believes this indicates that 3G connectivity isn’t a huge factor in iPad demand. The second is that the firm believes that the iPad has channeled billions of dollars into the retail computer sector by spurring demand for accessories such as cases.