iPad demand booming in China as students take to online learning

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Students learn German language on iPad
Unfortunately, Apple's not able to match demand with supply.
Photo: Apple

The spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus might have negatively impacted iPhone sales in China, but it may have also helped boost demand for iPads in the country.

According to a new report, iPads have experienced a surge in demand as families buy the tablets to carry out e-learning at home due to coronavirus-related school closures.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has so far killed more than 3,100 people in China, while tens of thousands more have been infected. China has closed schools ranging from primary school level through university. In place of classes, it has encouraged schools to move classes online, helping trigger the iPad demand.

Apple is struggling to meet iPad demand in China

Unfortunately, it seems that Apple is unable to capitalize on the increased demand. The same coronavirus that has caused the school closures has also affected Apple’s manufacturers. While Apple has ordered a 20% on iPad production for the first half of 2020, there is still not sufficient to meet the demand for iPads.

“[Demand surged when China] students to take … courses online,” one person familiar with the situation told Nikkei Asian Review. “The shortage of the iPad range is up to four weeks of waiting, especially for the cheaper models. The supply could not meet the pace of the demand at all.”

Currently, Apple’s official online store in China shows waits of between two and four weeks for an iPad. Unsurprisingly, the cheaper devices are in scarcer supply than the pricier models. Other retailers are showing similar delays. E-commerce platform T-Mall is limiting customers to six iPads at a time on certain models.

iPad production is spread throughout China. According to Nikkei Asian Review, all of these factories are struggling to find enough workers to fill demand. The first quarter of the year is typically a quiet season for iPad assembly, during which only half of the production capacity is normally needed. Not this year, though.

“The current situation is similar to every year’s peak season to produce new versions of iPhones when production line staff need to work overtime,” one person is quoted as saying. “It’s still a common scene that almost everyone is struggling to recruit enough manufacturing operators at the moment.”

A small piece of good news for Apple?

It’s not just the iPad that could receive an increase in sales due to the coronavirus outbreak. Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty has suggested that it could cause a rise in the number of apps being purchased.

“We believe the App Store could possibly experience a tailwind from the actions taken to limit the spread of coronavirus,” Huberty wrote in a note to clients last month. The reason for this tailwind? “Millions of Chinese consumers are spending more time at home and seeking alternative means of entertainment,” according to Huberty.

The correlation of increased sales in certain sectors during a coronavirus is not unprecedented. Online retailers such as Alibaba experienced an increase in sales during the SARS coronavirus epidemic in the early 2000s.

The spread of COVID-19 has been very disruptive to other parts of Apple’s business, however. Devices including the iPhone SE 2 and 5G iPhones face delays as a result. Nonetheless, the unexpected rise in iPad demand could be good news for Apple at a time when it’s had to withdraw its previous earnings guidance for the quarter on account of the outbreak.