iPad sings a sad tune for security vendors

Is the cost of Windows security driving people to Apple? Afterall,running a Mac without any security software is inadvisable but running Windows without any is insane.

The small uptick in malware for Mac OS X systems over the past year, I'm sure, has caused excitement amongst security vendors. Finally, Apple customers have something to worry about.

But Apple’s Q3 results yesterday were probably greater cause for concern.

Apple shipped a whopping 9.25 million iPads in Q3. As every security vendor knows, that’s 9.25 million customers who they simply cannot deliver security products to. Apple has not released the APIs for them to do so.

I’ll avoid the ‘Is a tablet a PC?’ debate here, but to put the iPad in context, Lenovo and Dell each shipped 10 million desktops and laptops in Q2, according to Gartner’s latest PC shipment figures, while top-dog HP shipped 14 million.

The iPad was on par with Acer’s shipments, but well ahead of Asus and Toshiba’s 4 million each. Apple’s iPad sales represent just over 10 per cent of the 85 million PCs shipped globally in Q2, and if you do consider it a PC, it's the fourth most popular in the world.

The good news for security vendors is that PC shipments are not shrinking, however IDC and Gartner downgraded their growth forecasts twice this year, citing waning interest in netbooks and growing interest in the iPad. Gartner’s November 2010 downgrade cut its 2011 forecast for PC shipments by 3 per cent, or 11 million units.

That’s 11 million fewer potential anti virus subscriptions.

A small relief for security vendors might be that Apple also reported 14 per cent year on year growth in Mac OS X shipments to 3.95 million for the quarter - well ahead of IDC’s 3 per cent growth rate for the wider PC market. But even these were dampened by the iPad, Apple COO Tim Cook, speculated.

Leaving preferences for Macs, Linux or Windows aside, I would not be surprised if the average consumer, in weighing up the cost of security, helped Apple collect a few more customers.

Mac OS X consumers have historically been reluctant to install security apps, and with decent free anti virus from Sophos, they currently do not need to pay for it if they want it.

On top of this, the relative absence of OS X malware, despite a few trojans reported this year, means that although running a Mac without any security is not advisable, running Windows without it is insane.

Apple's prices have fallen in the past two to three years, but still command a premium. However, that premium could be halved once the cost of security is taken in to account.

Take Symantec’s Norton 360 V5 Premier Edition for Windows, which costs $149 per year. That translates to $596 over a notebook's four-year life. McAfee’s Total Protection is $97.46 a year.

HP’s $981 Pavillion at JB Hi Fi has similar specifications Apple’s $2,099 MacBook Pro: i7 processor, 4G RAM, while the MacBook's 500 GB storage tops the Pavillion's 320 GB. Factor in security for the average consumer, who may not know how (or could not be bothered) to cobble together a patchwork of free products, and the price difference more than halves.

Of course, for the security industry, there is Android, which has become attractive to malware writers. But as Motorola, HP, Research in Motion and Samsung have found out, it’s a tough ask to build a rival to the iPad. Maybe Amazon will have better luck with its forthcoming line of Android tablets.

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