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iPad Killing Netbooks Already?

An interesting chart released from Morgan Stanley Research this morning shows that during the month of April – the month the iPad launched – netbook sales stalled. Did the iPad really have that much impact on an industry that was once the fastest-growing segment of the PC market? Or was the netbook’s fall from grace bound to happen at some point, with or without the Apple tablet’s help, as consumers discovered how hard it is to type on those tiny keyboards?

The netbook market saw incredible growth around this time last year. CNNMoney’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who uncovered the chart in a research report about HP’s acquisition of Palm, notes that netbook sales peaked last summer at “an astonishing 641% year-over-year growth rate.”

But in January, coincidentally (or not?) the same month that Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the forthcoming tablet computer dubbed the iPad, netbook sales took a nose dive. But by nose dive, we mean they only saw 68% year-over-year growth during this time frame, the first month of the new year. That’s not actually all that bad, is it? It only looks bad in comparison to the incredible numbers netbooks saw last summer.

But what’s more telling is that the numbers continued to trend downwards since then: 53% in February, 25% in March and a meager 5% in April.

Did consumers rush out and buy iPads instead of netbooks? Or do they plan to at some point, a decision which is now affecting netbook sales?

Considering that the pre-iPad month of December saw a still respectable 179% year-over-year growth for the netbook market, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between Apple’s news and the netbook market as a whole. Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty certainly does, claiming the tanking sales are “collateral damage,” says DeWitt, from Apple’s tablet announcement and launch.

iPad Cannibalizing Other Markets

In case you’re still not convinced that this correlation is also causation, Huberty digs up a Morgan Stanley/Alphawise survey from March focused on consumer buying intent. Here, she found that 44% of U.S. consumers planned to buy an iPad instead of a notebook or netbook computer.

Apple’s Initial Supply Struggles

Apple, too, was caught a little off-guard by the iPad’s initial success, which led to supply issues that delayed the international launch by a month. On May 3, the company released a statement which quoted Jobs as saying that iPad “demand continues to exceed supply…” Some have claimed that Apple is creating artificial demand for the product to generate interest, but analysts believe that Apple is just having difficulty scaling up production due to manufacturing complexity. However, Broadpoint AmTech analyst Brian Marshall says the learning curve the company is facing is “only temporary.”

Even with production delays, Apple sold 1 million iPads in 28 days, touts a recent press release – “less than half of the 74 days it took to achieve this milestone with the iPhone,” it reads.

Clearly, there is still a pent-up desire for low-cost, portable computing, but it seems the tide may be shifting from netbook-sized “totables” to touch-screens.

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