Since June of 2013, Apple has struggled to explain why sales of the iPad, which for a brief moment threatened the very existence of laptop computing, began its abrupt slide.
This week, research firm NPD Group came up with data that provides a fresh take: Even as Apple's iPad battled to hold its own amid the growing popularity of bigger-screened smartphones, it also was competing with free.(Tweet This)
The NPD Group reported a dramatic increase in the number of tablets connected to mobile networks in 2014. The research firm tallied some 18.3 million connected tablets in the U.S. — a 90 percent jump from the prior year. Mobile carriers accomplished this feat through aggressive discounting and giveaways as they worked furiously to add customers.
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For the carriers, this strategy paid dividends: The promotion resulted in more than 8.7 million new cellular tablet customers last year, NPD reported.
Apple ended up as collateral damage, as its own wireless carrier partners effectively handed out low-end tablets to subscribers and allowed customers to tap into their existing data plans for a modest additional charge of, say, $10 a month.