During Apple’s earnings call today, Tim Cook was asked to explain why Apple’s iPad sales slumped so badly over the past year.

Indeed, iPad sales were well down in the quarter at 12.3 million, compared to sales of 14.1 million in the same quarter last year.

According to eMarketer, iPad users will total 76 million this year in the U.S., or 52 percent of all U.S. tablet users. That market share is down from 54.5 percent of all U.S. tablet users in 2013.

The official story is that Apple reduced its iPad channel inventory at the end of June in anticipation of the new iPads (the Air 2 and the mini 3), which were announced Oct. 16.

But that explanation doesn’t sound quite truthy.

The company obviously didn’t cool off the supply chain for iPhone 5s, because sales of those phones must have accounted for much of the strong iPhone sales in the fourth quarter. The new iPhone 6s didn’t go on sale until 11 days before the end of the quarter.

And Cook spent an inordinate amount time on the earnings call addressing the issue.

“I view it as a speed bump, not as a big issue,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “That said, we want to grow. We don’t like negative numbers.”

“If you look at it over the long term instead of looking at each 90-day period, you’ll see that we sold 237 million iPads in just four years,” Cook said. “That’s twice the number of iPhones we sold during the first four years.”

Cook said that iPad sales were strong if you look at the numbers for the whole previous year, not by quarter.

He also responded to some analysts’ view that the tablet market may be saturated.

“We don’t think the market is saturated, and I do look deeply into the numbers,” Cook said.

“We looked at the country that sold the lowest percent of iPads to people who had never owned one before, and it was 50 percent,” Cook said. “And the number goes up to 70 in some of the other countries.”

Cook said he thinks people simply hold on to iPads longer than they do phones. “We’ve only been in this business four years,” Cook said, adding that his company is still learning about the buying patterns of iPad consumers.

“The iPad has a great future,” Cook said. “How it clicks over these 90-day periods, I don’t know.”

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