Initial iPad Sales Have Slowed, But Don't Blame Apple

Last Updated Apr 14, 2010 4:35 PM EDT

I know it's still the early days for the Apple (AAPL) iPad, but with the all the focus on how many of the devices have sold to date, it's easy to miss the overall sales trend. It's not encouraging: Unit sales are rapidly slowing.

I know it's only been a couple of weeks, but bear with me for a moment. After the first day the product was available, Saturday, April 3, Apple said it sold 300,000 iPads. Five days later, Steve Jobs said that Apple had sold 450,000, or an increase of 150,000. Today, six days after the last update, we hear that Apple is now up to 500,000 units:

Although we have delivered more than 500,000 iPads during its first week, demand is far higher than we predicted and will likely continue to exceed our supply over the next several weeks as more people see and touch an iPad(TM). We have also taken a large number of pre-orders for iPad 3G models for delivery by the end of April. Faced with this surprisingly strong US demand, we have made the difficult decision to postpone the international launch of iPad by one month, until the end of May. We will announce international pricing and begin taking online pre-orders on Monday, May 10. We know that many international customers waiting to buy an iPad will be disappointed by this news, but we hope they will be pleased to learn the reason -- the iPad is a runaway success in the US thus far.
Apple has done well out of the gate, but you can see a slowing in sales. From day one to day six, incremental sales dropped by half. From day six to day 14, incremental sales dropped by two-thirds.

There will be another big bump as Apple begins shipping the iPad internationally, and, frankly, I think the company is creating an artificial delay for overseas sales to create another bump to help manage expectations and perception. Then the release of the 3G versions will create yet another jump. That would fit with the initial talk of limited product availability that I think Apple intentionally leaked to create a sense of exclusivity and build consumer demand. From early on, the company was worried about how well the product would do. And for good reason -- every other attempt that vendors, including Apple, have made to sell tablets fell flat in the past.

(Update: As Jennifer Valentino-DeVries of the Wall Street Journal points out, iPads haven't sold out in the U.S., suggesting that the announcement about overseas customers having to wait is definitely another Apple attempt to shape market demand.)

But Apple has done most of what it can do to get people to purchase the iPad. The rest of the drive must now come from third parties -- meaning, content providers and app developers. Back in early February, I thought it was clear the iPad needed third party software to create niche uses that would, in turn, entice people to purchase.

This is a necessary but difficult position for Apple, because its culture demands as much control as possible over every factor that can affect its success. It must wait to see how well others have done their work. So far, apps niches haven't clearly emerged to attract specific types of customers. Some iPad owners I know have said that they don't think the content offerings are strong enough yet. One who works professionally in the media said, "I'm not recommending that my friends get it yet."

In the long run, I think the iPad will be successful. But in the short run, Apple has to face investors and equity analysts. Some sales predictions of sales run upwards of 7 million in the first year. That breaks down to 583,333 units a month, on the average. As things naturally slow down from the initial excitement of the introduction and first shipments, that may become a tough target to hit... unless content providers make their offerings more attractive.

Image: RGBStock.com user COBRASoft, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.