The iPad Clearly Cannibalized Mac Sales Last Quarter — Except The Opposite

Remember when the iPad was unveiled and some people tried to paint it as a lose-lose for Apple? The line of thinking was that even if the iPad was a hit (which many were skeptical of at the time), it would likely cannibalize sales of the Mac. You know, the higher-priced, and more importantly, higher-margin Apple products. If the iPad was the future of computing, it was going to come at a cost to Apple, was the thought.

Yeah. Good call on that one.

When Apple announced its Q3 2010 earnings yesterday, the big news was not only that iPad sales were huge (3.27 million), but that Mac sales were even bigger (3.47 million). Incredibly, it was the most amount of Macs Apple has ever sold in one quarter. Yes, ever. And again, this was the first quarter that the iPad was available.

So what’s going on?

Apple COO Tim Cook has a different theory about the iPad. He said that internally at Apple, they think about things the other way around. When people were concerned that the iPad may cannibalize Mac sales, Apple was wondering if it wouldn’t create another halo effect.

Cook noted that just as the iPod created a halo effect which spurred Mac sales all those years ago, the iPad (and iPhone) could very well do the same thing. He was cautious not to directly predict this would happen for sure. Be he noted that while Mac has outgrown the rest of the market for 17 straight quarters, there is still plenty of room to grow.

That’s the beauty of having a small market share, he said. In fact, he wondered if the iPad wouldn’t cannibalize PCs, which are still dominant.

All that being said, eventually, Apple’s vision is that iPads will start to eat into Mac sales. No less than Steve Jobs has said that he envisions a future where tablets and mobile devices are the norm in computing and traditional computers are more like “trucks” — only used for certain heavy-duty tasks.

For now, it appears that the iPad may help Apple sell a bunch of its own trucks.