Is the iPad really cannibalizing notebook sales?

Lynnette LunaIt's a good bet that Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn received some nasty phone calls from the likes of Dell, Microsoft, HP and probably folks in his own company after supposedly declaring to the Wall Street Journal that Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad is cannibalizing as much as 50 percent of the retail giant's laptop sales.

In a statement released this weekend, Dunn tried to clarify the statement: "The reports of the demise of these devices are grossly exaggerated. While they were fueled in part by a comment in the Wall Street Journal that was attributed to me, they are not an accurate depiction of what we're currently seeing. In fact, we see some shifts in consumption patterns, with tablet sales being an incremental opportunity. And as we said during our recent earnings call, we believe computers will remain a very popular gift this holiday because of the very distinct and desirable benefits they offer consumers. That's why we intend to carry a broad selection of computing products and accessories to address the demand we anticipate this season."

Of course, the iPad's impact on notebook sales has been the million-dollar question for a couple of months now. Is it another device that sits between the smartphone and the notebook, or is it a replacement for the notebook?

Will tablets cut into notebook sales?In a recent report, Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty said notebook growth is now negative--and she blames the iPad's launch for the decline. According to her report, U.S. retail notebook unit growth fell 4 percent year over year in August, making it negative for the first time. The dip came after six months of slowing growth, which corresponds to Apple launch of the iPad. Prior to that, notebooks enjoyed an increase in year-over-year growth each month.

Stephen Baker, a retail analyst with the NPD Group, told Computerworld that a not-yet-released survey from the firm put iPad cannibalization of PC sales in the mid-teens. He also said it's difficult to peg the iPad's impact on PC sales thanks to a number of consumer electronics such as 3D televisions, digital cameras and game consoles that are competing for consumers' dollars.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told ComputerWorld that consumers seem to replacing second or third PCs, which are often notebooks, with tablets.

I tend to think that the tablet will be a third device folks will carry around. The iPad doesn't quite cut it as a replacement for the computer when it comes to tasks like actual typing, but it fills a good entertainment niche. Smartphones fill yet another level of communications need.

It seems like we've entered an era where consumers don't mind carrying around a plethora of devices. That's good news for device makers. --Lynnette