PC Vendors Pray iPads Don't Cannibalize Mac Sales; Microsoft Hopes They Do

Last Updated Jul 8, 2010 6:30 AM EDT

According to a recent analyst take, the Apple (AAPL) iPad has not cannibalized Mac sales. It would be great news for Apple, and yet, it would actually be even better news for every manufacturer of Windows-based PCs. Why? Because the possibility of finding an unmet market need would be like the U.S. government giving them the key to Fort Knox. But that would almost certainly be bad news for Microsoft (MSFT).

Honestly, I have some doubts about the analysis for two reasons. The big one is that it comes from Piper Jaffray senior analyst Gene Munster, who is a pretty big Apple cheerleader and often wrong in his predictions. The second reason is that it uses NDP Group data, which is decent, but only covers U.S. sales.

However, let's assume for a moment that Munster is right and that the iPad leaves Mac sales undisturbed. There is little that could be better news to the general PC industry.

Forget for a moment that the PC vendors are way behind catching up to the iPad. This isn't an issue of competition, but one of market definition. Something that Steve Jobs said over and over about the iPad was that it would be a device in a new category, different from either computer or smartphone and sitting between the two of them.

If Jobs is right -- and, given iPad adoption rates and the inherent difference in what you can do with the tablet versus a desktop or laptop, I suspect he is -- then the time has come for tablets to gain market acceptance as an additional product category that many consumers will want. Suddenly all personal computer vendors, no matter what the operating system, have a chance to sell yet another piece of equipment to people in mature markets. Even though they'll trail Apple, HP (HPQ), Dell (DELL), and the like have a chance to rack up incremental sales, boosting revenue and profits.

So how is this bad news for Microsoft? Simple: the company won't be ready with its own tablet until 2012. Hardware vendors have already begun to turn to Google (GOOG) Android and will do so more strongly. The trend will help establish the operating system well beyond smartphones and even more thoroughly undercut Microsoft's strategy.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.