Putting New iPad Sales Numbers in Perspective

By now you’ve heard the news from Apple. 3 million NEW iPads were sold during its opening weekend. Ho hum.

But wait. Let’s think about that for a moment. 3 million. In 3 days. For a product in a category that didn’t exist 2 years ago.

Since Apple sells millions of units of it’s products every month, numbers like this tend to be glanced over. If it was any other company, this would be BIG news. But it’s Apple. We expect numbers like this. But in order to see what these numbers actually mean, I wanted to do some digging and find some numbers to compare this to.

So here’s what I found.

Before I start, I want to point out that my goal is to be objective. I am NOT an Apple fanboy. I use their products (MacBook, iMac, iPad), but I don’t line up to get their latest toys. I also own a PC, Kindle Fire, Nook Color and my current phone is a Droid R2D2. Moving on…

iPad 1 & 2

When the iPad first launched back in April 2010, it sold 300,000 units during opening weekend. At the time, this was pretty impressive, considering it was a category of computing that didn’t exist. Unproven technology. In all, it took over 3 months to reach 3 million sales.

When the iPad 2 launched in 2011, the problem was lack of supply, which was well publicized. Stores sold out quickly and there just weren’t enough units to meet demand. This obviously makes sales numbers a bit difficult to compare. However, by some estimates, anywhere between 500,000 – 1 million units were sold opening weekend.

So the NEW iPad sold 3x more units than the iPad 2. That in itself is impressive. What’s more impressive to me is that in my mind, the iPad 2 was a bigger update than the NEW iPad. It was considerably thinner and lighter, introduced a camera, and by comparison, ran noticeably faster than it’s predecessor (sure, the NEW iPad has a faster processor, but it’s also pushing around a LOT more pixels, so the difference in speed isn’t going to be as noticeable). So the fact that it sold that much better than the iPad 2 is really telling.


Now let’s look at numbers for the iPhone. I know these aren’t really comparable numbers, but there is one thing I wanted to point out.

The first generation iPhone sold 270,000 units during opening weekend. The third generation iPhone (3GS) sold 1 million. So even though the first generation numbers for the iPhone and iPad were nearly even, the third generation iPad outsold the third gen iPhone by 3x. Crazy.

Android Tablets

Unfortunately, most manufacturers aren’t as open with their actual sales numbers as Apple is. So this makes actual numbers difficult to confirm. That’s problem #1.

Problem 2 is that most other manufacturers talk about units in terms of number SHIPPED, not SOLD as Apple does. So it’s likely that the actual number sold will be lower than the shipped number as many units sit on shelves, and ultimately get shipped back to the manufacturer.

According to a study by Gartner on tablet sales, Android devices were projected to run in the neighborhood of 11 million for 2011. That sounds pretty decent actually.

That number is boosted heavily by the Kindle Fire and Nook Color/Tablet.

The Kindle Fire was reported to have sold 3 million units in the first 3 weeks after launch. Aside from the NEW iPad numbers, these are perhaps the most impressive sales figures in my mind. Considering this is a first generation product, that shows how well Amazon has done in creating something people actually want (which probably says more for Amazon’s content than it’s hardware). In addition, the Nook Color/Tablet sold 1.5 million units in Q4 of 2011. Also a good number. One important thing to note is that these tablets go for roughly 1/3 of the average price of an iPad, so obviously the iPad can’t compete from a cost perspective.

So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that these 2 tablets could have accounted for half of all of the Android tablets that sold in 2011.

The only other Android tablet I found hard numbers on was the Motorola Xoom & Xyboard. Apparently, those sold 200,000 units in Q4 of 2011. Not nearly as impressive.

The other big name Android tablet is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. There has been a lot of speculation as to actual numbers of these sold, but from the sounds of it, the actual number sold in 2011 may have been closer to 200,000 than the reported 2 million it reportedly shipped. Again, no way to confirm these numbers at this point.

Other Tablets

Other notable tablets include the RIM PlayBook and HP TouchPad. The PlayBook reportedly sold 200,000 units in Q2 2011, and likely sold quite a few more later in the year when the price was reduced to $199. The TouchPad made headlines with it’s fire sale at $99, which resulted in an estimated 2 million units sold during 2011. However, at that price point, comparing it with iPad sales doesn’t really fly.


If you look at the numbers objectively, it is impressive how Apple is able to sell that many units, particularly when you consider:

  • The price point of the iPad rests between $499 and $829. Not cheap. In fact, the top of the line iPad is only $170 cheaper than a MacBook Air.
  • From what I’ve seen, there has been little advertising surrounding the NEW iPad. In fact, every iPad billboard I’ve seen is advertising the iPad 2.
  • Aside from the retina display, there isn’t a lot that stands out in my mind about the NEW iPad. It’s also thicker and heavier than the iPad 2.
  • Unlike phones, which just about everyone has a real need for, tablets are still a bit uncertain in terms of the purpose they fulfill. And they are certainly not proven to be good for content creation.

Hopefully that helps put some perspective around 3 million.

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One Response to “Putting New iPad Sales Numbers in Perspective”

  1. Zeeshan A Zakaria May 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm # Reply

    Thanks for this analysis. I am also inclined towards a tablet but could never justify to myself, why. I lately ended up with an iMac and would go for a MacBook Air than iPad. I seriously doesn’t see true use of a tablet. I think people buy them because of advertisement, trend and fashion, not because they need it.

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