Should the iPad count as a mobile PC?

The industry statisticians are prepping their year-end totals. But the introduction of Apple’s iPad brings some ambiguity into the previously finely-drawn categories.

Where do they put the iPad: Mobile PC or mobile computing device? The analyst company DisplaySearch puts the iPad in the PC category with its Monday release of the Quarterly Mobile PC Shipment and Forecast Report. With this calculation, Apple now has a Number 3 position worldwide in the category and ranks Number 1 in North America.

DisplaySearch calls this the “iPad Effect.” Without the iPad, Apple’s category share would be 4.8 percent, giving it a worldwide 8th place ranking, it said. Whether one counts the iPad in the mobile PC mix or not, these rankings are great for Apple. It’s difficult to budge shares of the worldwide PC market, and with the refresh cycle happening in the enterprise we would expect Apple’s share to be toward the bottom of the list. Still, almost 5 percent of mobile computers sold in the third quarter were Mac OS X models.

HP is in first place with an 17.3 percent market share, edging out Acer with a 16.5 percent share. DisplaySearch analysts questioned the acceptance of the iPad in Asian segments, such as Japan and China. “A lack of competitive tablet PC products from other brands continues to drive Apple’s market share in the mobile PC segment.

As the iPad continues its worldwide rollout, one developed region where the acceptance of the iPad has been weak is Japan, however. Questions of local language content and language-specific apps have slowed acceptance in this tech savvy region,” noted Chris Connery, Vice President of Large Format Displays at DisplaySearch. “As other players come to market with tablet PCs it will be interesting to see if they can move beyond the Western-centric nature of Apple’s product and develop an infrastructure to support local needs, especially with the growth of consumer spending in China on personal computing devices. ”However, I note the results for notebooks and for the Asian markets provided by Apple for the September quarter (for Apple it’s the fiscal Q4).

We experienced strong double-digit growth in both Mac desktop and portable categories led by very strong sales of iMac which was updated in July and the continued popularity of the MacBook Pro and MacBook. Mac growth was strong in each of our geographic segments, led by Asia-Pacific at 56 percent year-over-year and Japan at 49 percent.Whether or not the Asian market is satisfied by the iPad, North American enterprise adoption is only ramping up.

The results of quals are winding up now and the actual purchases will be coming in the next calendar year, perhaps bringing further growth in the quarter after the holiday sales.Apple is bringing on SMB and enterprise sales forces. In the September quarter analyst call, Tim Cook said that he had “never seen an adoption like this in my life in enterprise.”The iPad in business only starting to take off.Should iPads be counted as mobile PCs? It’s a tough call.

Mobility used to be easier: it uses a battery and you can carry it on an airplane. Now, there are many subcategories, each with a different footprint, price range and hardware/software capability. In addition, there is blurring of the lines between categories. For example, there are the hybrid tablets that can be used as a tablet but also come with an integrated keyboard. At the same time, users can easily add a keyboard to an iPad.

Should the dividing line be the OS? The iPad uses a mobile version of OS X called by Apple iOS. Some tablets and netbooks run ordinary versions of their respective OS. Others use a mobile flavor. My suggestion is to divide up the mobility market by capability:Workhorse: A machine that let users easily edit and encode video, or other desktop functions. Both of Apple’s notebooks fall in this category.Netbook/Tablets: Everything else. Small notebook-style machines that support primary computing functions.

By David Morgenstern

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