45 Million iPads in 2011? Don't Bet on It

Hold your horses, people.

It’s far from certain that Apple’s going to sell 45 million iPadsin 2011, as Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White has suggested.

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That nosebleed number is just one analyst’s guess on what Apple could do based on some talks with component suppliers. Even if Apple sold that many, who knows what the price would be, so the $30 billion number assumes today’s average selling price. And Apple wouldn’t be ordering components for a specific product a year ahead of time either, so who knows what these suppliers’ info is based on.

Let’s look at some numbers.

Apple sold almost 21 million iPhones in fiscal 2009, nearly twice as many as the year before. They sold 54 million iPods, flat with the year before. So for Apple to sell 45 million iPads, the tablet would have to become an unprecedented hit – even by Apple’s very high standards.

The iPad, remember, just came out this spring – Bernstein Research analysts think it’s now selling at a rate of about 4.5 million units per quarter, which is 18 million a year. To hit 45 million units, Apple would have to more than double that sales rate in 2011 – something the iPhone didn’t even manage to do in its go-go year between 2008 and 2009.

But let’s have a little fun here. What would Apple have to do to increase volume to that level?

History gives us some clues.

One key thing would be to drop the entry price below the current $500, as it did with the first iPhone. How? One, come out with a smaller version, perhaps the 7-inch iPad some are expecting in January. Two, sell a subsidized version with a carrier data plan through AT&T, Verizon or others.

Another key move would be to dramatically expand distribution by selling it through the Wal-Marts of the world.

The big wildcard here is the competition. So far, the iPad has had the tablet market mostly to itself. That’s going to change soon with the advent of Android, Windows and webOS tablets. If those catch on, it’ll be a kick in the shins for those lofty iPad sales growth projections.

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