The Coming Apple Tablet-Netbook-Smartphone-Kindle Stats Problem

ipod touches

As computers, smartphones, Internet tablets, game devices, and e-book readers all start to do more of the same things, it’s going to get trickier defining markets and identifying success.

For instance, right now, market shares in the PC industry — usually calculated by unit shipments — are getting whacked around by companies selling cheap, low-margin netbooks.

One particular effect: That’s helped take a bite out of Apple’s market share, as Apple doesn’t sell a netbook, and rather hates them. According to IDC, Apple’s share dropped to 7.6% of the U.S. PC market in Q2, down from 8.5% a year ago. Meanwhile, netbook-heavy Acer has jumped to 12.6% of the market, up from 8.1% a year ago.

Meanwhile, Apple’s response to the netbook craze will likely be a tablet computer, which could come later this year or next year.

But what if Apple’s tablet — which will probably compete with netbook PCs — is an extension of its iPod touch line? (We initially called it the “iPod touch HD.”)

Would IDC and its peers count it in their PC statistics, their MP3 player statistics, or somewhere else? Will IT research firms eventually have to break netbooks and Internet tablets out as a separate market? Or will Apple continue to see its market share get pounded around because it doesn’t want to sell cheap, crappy, low-margin laptops?

The problem gets more complicated as people start substituting one device for another in a completely different category.

For instance, super-powerful smartphones or iPod touch-like devices could eventually disrupt PC sales. The Amazon Kindle e-book reader, once it gets a colour screen and better user interface, could eventually disrupt iPod touch, Apple tablet, or netbook sales. So could an improved Nintendo DS, or another cross-over device. Not to mention Mike Arrington’s CrunchPad.

We won’t pretend we know what the stat-keepers are going to do. And, of course, an individual company’s quarterly earnings report is always going to be the best indication of success.

But as long as people rely on IT research firms like IDC, Gartner, and Forrester for industry data, it seems that some surveys are going to be prime for reorganising, so it’s easier to call winners and losers.

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