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Apple's Cook: 172 million 'post-PC' devices in the last year

Apple CEO's latest data dump underscores accelerating shift in consumer technology preferences.

Tim Cook takes the stage at the iPad 3 launch event. Donald Bell/CNET

Who wouldn't want to be Tim Cook? The guy runs the most valuable company in the world, makes a gazillion dollars a year, and everybody wants to be his best buddy.

Everybody except the clutch of rivals whose business still depends in large part on selling computer boxes. While the PC my not be dead, it's become increasingly less relevant among consumers. That trend was underscored by the latest data dump out of Apple, with a series of extraordinary statistics Cook shared during Apple's iPad announcement Wednesday morning in San Francisco.

Last year, Apple sold 172 million of what Cook calls "post-PC" devices, making up 76 percent of the company's revenues. On a related note, he said Apple sold 62 million iOS devices in the last quarter and 315 million overall. Those are big numbers, and they underscore a trend analysts believe is only going to pick up more steam with smartphones and tablets already outstripping sales of PCs.

Cook dubbed this 'the post-PC revolution" during his keynote, adding that Apple had sold more iPads in last year's fourth quarter than any PC manufacturer had sold PCs worldwide. "It's happening all around us and at an amazing pace," Cook said.

For Cook, there's obviously more than passing self-interest in promoting that vision. But beyond the obvious hype, the facts on the ground bear him out. He's also returning to a theme he's sounded previously--the most recent occasion being last month, when he told an investor conference that Apple was gung-ho about pushing the iPad, even at the Mac's expense.

"It's going to be a very successful product," Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman said after Cook's presentation. "The engineering that Apple's done is quite impressive."

Forrester recently upwardly revised its forecast for U.S. consumer tablet sales, predicting that about one-third of the U.S. adult population will own a device within the next four years.

In 2011, Forrester forecast there would be 257.2 million consumer PCs (a figure which includes desktops, laptops, and Netbooks), versus 36.1 million tablets. This year, Forrester forecasts 255.5 million consumer PCs versus 65.5 million tablets.

A big shift and you can see where the trend line is pointing. But still, only a minority of the total population is buying into Cook's post-PC scenario. (One would be on more solid ground making the case that the iPod directly contributed to the collapse of the netbook market.) For Cook's vision to fully materialize, it's going to take more than simply competing on price and technology, Rotman noted in a report she authored, pointing out that price and technology were not the big reasons motivating consumers. "It's about the services--what you can do with the device, which is why Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble have succeeded in the U.S. where pure hardware plays have failed."

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