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Apple iPad sales slumped 18% in Q1, but Cook still sees 'bright future' for platform

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As many industry analysts predicted, iPad sales saw a steep year-over-year decline for the first fiscal quarter of 2015, but CEO Tim Cook is optimistic and sees great potential in Apple's upcoming hardware pipeline.

For the quarter ending in December, iPad shipments clocked in at 21.4 million units, down 18 percent from just over 26 million sold during the same period last year. The sales decline spurred a 22 percent dip in year-over-year revenue, bringing in about $9 billion this year compared to 2014's $11.5 billion performance.

Despite the slowdown, Cook is upbeat on future prospects for Apple's tablet lineup, noting his position gives him a clear view of the road ahead. He was careful not to telegraph mixed signals during an investor conference call on Tuesday, however, saying, "I'm not projecting. To be clear with everyone, I'm not projecting something very different next quarter or the next. I'm thinking over the long run." Cook also cautioned that investors may not see a "miraculous" improvement in year-over-year performance over the near term.

The statement suggests Apple may not release substantial changes to the iPad lineup in the next six months. Rumors of a supposed 12-inch "iPad Pro" have been making the rounds for months, though little hard evidence has surfaced proving its existence. In January, a photo turned up online purporting to show a 3D rendering of the alleged device. In line with previous rumblings, the image showed a speaker grille positioned near the top-mounted power button, suggesting the tablet could support stereo sound when used in landscape mode.

On the merits of iPad, Cook pointed out that recent sales statistics show a large percentage of first-time buyers, hinting at low saturation levels and room to grow. For example, 50 percent of iPad buyers in the U.S, Japan and UK were new to Apple's tablet. Looking at the booming China market, that number jumps to more than 70 percent, Cook said.

Aside from future growth, iPad usage rates are up to six times Apple's nearest competitor, he said. As defined by Cook, iPad usage is measured in total share of tablet Web browsing and commerce, which stand at 71 percent and 80 percent of those respective markets.

Overall, Cook appears to be taking a long haul approach to iPad, noting hardware, innovation and unannounced plans will keep the platform relevant for the foreseeable future.

"So I'm not predicting the 90-day clips and so forth, but over the long arc of time," Cook said. "I really believe that iPad is a great space, a great product and coupled with the product innovation we've got, I think there's a very bright future for it."