Could Apple Sell 48 Million iPads?

Last week, analyst Brian Blair predicted that Apple would ship 45 to 48 million iPads next year, based in his check of the supply chain and the demand an iPad 2 would create. But as I discuss in my column at GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d), given what that number would require both from Apple and consumers, is such a number simply too high?

Below, I examine three ways in which the world would have to be different to reach a 48 million iPad market in 2011.

Near Complete Obliteration of the Netbook Category

Most people realize at this point that tablets are cannibalizing netbooks, but for their part, netbooks have held up OK in 2010. Today, estimates for netbook shipments in 2010 range from 30 to 36 million in 2010.

However, with some predicting netbooks to reach 35 to 45 million unit market next year, it’s hard to fathom a 48 million iPad market at that level. Instead of flat sales for netbooks, a 48 million iPad market would probably look something like this:

That’s what near obliteration of the netbook market would look like. Can it happen? Sure, but it probably won’t, at least not that quickly.

A Sub-$500 iPad.

While there has been lots of speculation lately about a 7-inch iPad, Steve Jobs’ recent comments on the topic should put those rumors to rest. This means a lower-priced iPad (starting at $500) probably won’t come anytime soon.

Why would the iPad need to have a sub-$500 model? Simply, because while people love Apple products, there is still such a thing as price sensitivity, and to reach the wider audience that 48 million iPads would require would, at least in 2011, require a lower price.

Android Tablets Bomb

The invasion of the Android tablets is set to begin, and while most of us predict the iPad will continue to hold the market leader position, there’s no doubt that some potential tablet customers would opt for an Android based device.

So can Apple do it?  For a company that continually exceeds expectations, 48 million iPads can’t be ruled out entirely, but such lofty numbers require too many things outside of Apple’s control (such as a disappointing crop of Android tablets) as well as those within (such as dropping the price of the iPad) to be likely.

Read the full post here.

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