AT&T's activation of 3.2 million iPhones in the second quarter got the attention of the tech media Thursday, highlighting the Apple device's continued importance to the company's wireless business.
But during its earnings conference call, AT&T also shed some light on that hot-selling Apple product, the iPad. The carrier said it activated 400,000 to 500,000 iPad 3Gs in the quarter, with usage about as expected -- higher than a typical iPhone user, but less than someone using a laptop. Apple said last week that 3 million of the Apple tablets had been sold since its April 3 launch.
Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, said during the company's conference call this week that it is selling iPads and iPhone 4s as fast as it can make them. And apparently the iPad doesn't appeal only to consumers. AT&T's Chief Financial Officer Rick Lindner said Thursday the company has been surprised by the level of interest among business users.
When the iPhone was first launched, he noted that businesses, and especially chief information officers, were reluctant to adopt the phone as a business tool. "Over time that's changed dramatically," he said. But "right from the beginning with the iPad, we've had a number of business customers express interest." Lindner also suggested some companies might even use iPads to replace laptops.
But there's a difference between expressing interest and making large-volume purchases. Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for market research firm NPD Group, is skeptical that the iPad will make inroads in the business market in the near future. For one thing, he notes that companies are always looking at new technologies and tools to improve productivity. That doesn't necessarily mean they will become customers.
He also does not envision the iPad replacing laptops or netbooks for business users because of the lack of comparable features, including ports for attaching other devices and a physical keyboard. But Baker said he can see the iPad and other tablets being well-suited to certain industries such as healthcare, where they could be used as input terminals in hospitals and other care facilities. "But from a large-scale deployment perspective, I don't see that happening anytime soon," he said.
Still, the iPad is helping drive AT&T's efforts to wirelessly power connected devices including e-readers and GPS systems. It added more than 900,000 such devices in the second quarter for a total of 6.7 million. And even with the addition of the iPad, AT&T said it managed to improve network performance in New York, where dropped calls were down 23% and 3G download speeds are up 31% in the last six months.
Lindner said network upgrades in San Francisco, the other major source of service complaints from iPhone users, were about 90 days behind those in New York.