Apple reduced its total channel inventory by a whopping $1 billion last quarter.
The major behind-the-scenes changes by Apple come after the company was reportedly caught off-guard by an oversupply of Macs earlier this year. That shock may have scared Apple executives into a more careful approach with supply — a change that remains very much a work in progress, as evidenced by major products becoming completely unavailable through resellers or even Apple’s own stores for a week or more.
Nobody is better at supply chain management than Tim Cook, but even he got caught by surprise — in a very big way — by the shrinkage of the PC market. Mac sales may have suffered less than Windows PC sales, but they’ve still suffered.
Of course, that shrinkage has been made up for, at least in large part, by the self-cannibalization of iPad sales, but there’s another danger on the horizon.
iPads have smaller profit margins than Macs do, but they tend to get replaced more frequently just like PCs and Macs used to. My first few PCs got replaced about every 30 months — that’s how long before the latest Intel CPU was at least twice as fast as the one in my current box, and then that upgrade itch become impossible not to scratch.
But something happened. My last PC was a 2GHZ Pentium 4 built by Gateway bought in 2001. With no new versions of Windows to run and nothing much more demanding to do than rip and burn CDs, I kept that beast for a record four years. I might have kept it longer if I hadn’t decided to make the switch to Mac as soon as Mac switched to Intel.
That now seven-year-old Mac is still running strong as my seven-year-old’s computer. And the only reason I ditched it for a Mac Pro is, I started ripping my Blu-Ray movies. Believe me when I tell you that a Core 1 computer just ain’t up to ripping 1080p. Or at least not in less time than it would take me to grow a ZZ Top beard.
And this Mac Pro, now four years old? It would take a major component failure before I’d bother getting a new machine. That’s not a Mac vs PC thing, either. We’ve just reached the point where, unless you’re doing 4k video editing, a cheap (or old) machine is Plenty Good Enough.
Well, tablets are getting Plenty Good Enough for tablet-y kinds of things. My first-gen iPad from 2010 still works great — in its bullet-proof Fisher-Price case for my three-year old. To me it feels awfully slow, awfully lacking in features, and that screen now makes me wince. But my early 2012 iPad Retina? It’s plenty zippy, the display looks great… why should I upgrade before it finally gives up the ghost?
And I think a lot of tablet owners, who before might have been on the same two-year-upgrade cycle as me, might now be wondering if they need to upgrade this year, next year, or maybe not for a three more years.
Tablets are Plenty Good Enough, which is an amazing thing for a device category that’s barely more than three years old. But it might be a distressing thing at corporate headquarters throughout the tech world.