Apple Orders 10 Million Tablets? Sounds Fishy

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Today's Apple tablet rumor has an optimistic zing to it--and maybe that's a great way to close out a dreary 2009. According to a blog post by former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee, Apple plans to produce nearly 10 million tablets in the still-unannounced product's first year. Lee worked for Apple more than ten years ago and left Google earlier this year, according to published reports.

That figure--10 million--seems awfully high for a consumer product that's charting unknown territory. The tablet (or iSlate or iPad, if you prefer) would target an untapped market, if rumors of the device's form and functionality are true. True, a few tablet-style browser/media players are either already on the market or are arriving shortly, but none has garnered anywhere near the attention of the Apple tablet.

I did some checking at Apple's site to see what sales figures were like for the iPhone in its first year. Here's the breakdown:

Q3 2007: 270,000 units

Q4 2007: 1,119,000

Q1 2008: 2,315,000

Q2 2008: 1,703,000

Add up the quarterly numbers, and Apple sold just over 5.4 million iPhones in the handset's first year. (I also tried to get first-year numbers for the iPod, which launched in November 2001, but Apple's financial reports didn't break down iPod sales back then.)

If Lee's blog post is to be believed, Apple plans to sell nearly twice as many tablets as it did iPhones in the product's first year.

Call me a pessimist, but that's hard to believe. Remember, the iPhone was entering a well-established cell phone market when it debuted in 2007. People had used cell phones for years. They liked cell phones and understood their value. Apple's pitch back then: The iPhone is better than any other cell phone on the market. Millions of customers agreed, and the rest is history.

The tablet? Well, that's a much harder sell. The iSlate is sort of a big iPod, but not really. It performs a lot of notebook-like functions, but it's not really a notebook either.

My point is that Apple will need to educate its target market. And that's why I seriously doubt the company expects to move 10 million tablets within a year.

Then again, Apple has proven the pundits wrong before. What do you think?

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at

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