|Although Apple was sure enough that the iPad mini would be a popular seller that it made the diminutive model the centerpiece of its holiday campaigns, even the prognosticators at Apple might have been surprised by the model's enduring demand -- and may have adjusted inventories and supplies to accommodate more iPad minis and fewer full-size iPads in their future mix, claims a new study by industry analyst NPD. The company has looked at display orders from Apple suppliers and believes the company changed its plans.
The iPad mini's main selling points -- its lower price, lighter weight and ability to hold the device in one hand -- may be accounting for the rapid uptake among buyers, who don't see the lower resolution or slower processor and graphics speed compared to the current fourth-generation iPad as disadvantages. The more compact screen may make the Mini's 1024x768 resolution closer to "Retina" levels than the average buyer can discern, or it may not be a significant enough factor compared to the Mini's other advantages, such as increased portability and full compatibility with full-size iPad apps, to force buyers to the larger and more powerful iPad.
NPD subsidiary DisplaySearch says that demand for 9.7-inch displays for all manufacturers, and used in the full-size iPad, has "collapsed" since the holiday period, falling from 7.4 million units to 1.3 million -- while demand for 7-to-7.9-inch screens, the latter size being used in the iPad mini, grew from 12 to 14 million panels in January. Demand for 10.1-inch screens, used in a handful of Android tablets, increased only slightly.
After claiming (not based on any revealed data from Apple, just looking at supplier orders) that Apple was expecting to sell more full-size iPads than iPad minis two months ago, the company now says that Apple has changed course and expects to sell more iPad minis than iPads, based on the performance of the smaller tablet during the holidays. The company now plans to sell 55 million iPad minis compared to just 33 million iPads, NPD claims. The iPhone maker sold just shy of 23 million iPads (of all sizes) in the last calendar quarter for 2012, but didn't break down the numbers between the three available models (the iPad 2, another lightweight but full-size option, is still being sold).
Together, the full and mini-sized iPad count could top 88 million units in fiscal 2013 by thier estimates, which would represent a growth of just under 50 percent compared to the 60 million iPads sold in fiscal 2012. The iPad mini, according to NPD, will make up 60 percent of total iPad sales.
The DisplaySearch report believes that total tablet panel sales will hit 254 million in 2013, up from 160 million the year before. Of that total, it expects "phablet" and mini-tablet screens between five and 8.9 inches to account for around 60 percent of demand. The rest are attributed to a combination of rival tablets and oversized smartphone (larger than five inches but smaller than nine inches) sales.
The report paints a clear picture of Apple as leading the entire market both in sales and direction, forcing manufacturers to increase the resolution of panels, the pixel-per-inch counts, battery life and thinness of the smaller tablets. It also forecasts problems for tablet manufacturers being able to maintain low price points as Apple's offering continues to up the ante on features and quality. Prices are expected to rise from the $200-250 range to closer to the iPad mini's $329 price tag for "premium" mini-tablets and larger "bear paw" smartphones and "phablets."
Apple's Tim Cook has cautioned analysts on occasion that Apple's supply chain is "very complex" and that single data points (such as orders of displays from a given supplier) are not likely to be truly indicative of Apple's plans or operations. "Even if a particular data point were to be factual," Cook said, "it would be impossible to interpret what that data point means to our business ... yields can vary, supplier performance can vary."
That said, DisplaySearch's claim of a serious drop in full-size display order mirrors a similar report from DigiTimes regarding display supplier LG -- suggesting that NPD may possibly be relying on a single data point for their speculation.