There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether iPads should count in Apple’s overall PC sales figures. Doing so, the argument goes, would propel Apple to the number one spot for PC unit sales, dwarfing companies such as Dell and market leader HP.

Most of the figures I’ve seen omit the iPad from PC sales but a recent report by NPD DisplaySearch positions the iPad as part of Apple’s overall sales of mobile PCs and, as an unsurprising consequence, puts the company at the head of the pack.

Even a tech leader such as HP CEO Meg Whitman admits that Apple could take its position as market leader if “if you integrate tablets”.

But the device hasn’t been counted in official tallies of PC unit sales until NP Group DisplaySearch did so – unless I missed another instance. Neither is any tablet for that matter. But to be honest, with the possible exception of Amazon, there aren’t many tablet companies selling as many of the devices as Apple.

So what is a PC? Wikipedia offers the following definition: “A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end user with no intervening computer operator.”

Sounds like an iPad to me. However, Apple has never positioned the iPad as a PC. Instead, it has pitched it in a third device category between phone and desktop. In Apple’s terms, it’s a post-PC device, yet it ticks many of the categories that define a PC.

The PC market is certainly important to Apple as Mac sales, in particular notebooks, are helping to fill the company coffers. Global PC sales are depressed while the Mac is doing well in comparison. In fact, while the PC market is struggling, the stable of products from Apple is helping to prop up overall PC sales, as tech blogger Tom Reestman points out.

Adverse impact on PC sales

The depressing news from the PC world is that the dip may be terminal. The industry is undergoing changing times and we are only beginning to feel the effect. Even the recent netbook revolution has waned.

Do Dell, HP and the others in the PC market want the tablet to be classed as a PC? No. Who wants to be pushed down the pecking order by a fireball product?

Does Apple care that it could be called the biggest PC manufacturer on the block? No more than it cares about whether the MacBook Air is an Ultrabook and is part of the new wave of PCs that still garner much interest with consumers and the enterprise. It’s happy in its post-PC world.

Apple reported a monster quarter last month and earlier this week its stock value passed $500bn for the first time in its history. It’s due to build on that momentum next month when it announces a new iPad at a 7 March event.

Tablets set to eclipse PCs

At a recent Goldman Sachs tech conference Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked whether he saw the tablet market eclipsing the PC market over time. He was effusive: “From the first day it shipped, we thought that the tablet market would become larger than the PC market and it was just a matter of the time it took for that to occur.”

He added: “I believe that tablet market can replace the unit sales of the PC market, and it’s just a matter of the speed at which that happens. It’s too much of a profound change in things for that to not happen.”

Is the iPad a PC? No. The PC is being consigned to history. The iPad is helping to shape the future. Adding iPad sales to that category is like putting lipstick on a pig.

It reminds me of that Groucho Marx quote: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as a member.”

The post-PC club, for want of a better name, has one only exclusive member at the moment.