Is the iPad Losing its Luster?

December 8th, 2011

Those industry analysts seem to agree that Apple is headed towards a stellar quarter as we near the final holiday shopping period. There will supposedly be record numbers of iPhones and Macs sold, therefore supporting Apple’s predictions of amazing revenue and profits. That is the good news.

But there might be a little cloud in the silver lining, and it’s all about the iPad. Suddenly the analysts are claiming that iPad sales seem a bit “light” in their surveys, or after examining their crystal balls. Thus, Apple may sell a million or so fewer units than they originally expected.

Now understand that industry analysts don’t always get their figures right. They have an awful habit of mostly underestimating Apple’s sales. But last quarter was the exception, where they were delivering highly inflated estimates of iPhone sales. It was all without common sense, since the iPhone 4 was long in the tooth, and it was fairly obvious a new model would arrive by October. But knowing or suspecting a later release of the iPhone 4’s successor clearly caused a number of customers to postpone their purchases. How could it be otherwise?

So, those sales estimates had to be wrong.

Now complicating the iPad picture is the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire, a seven-inch $199 tablet that has gotten a lot of hype, but mostly tepid reviews from the tech and mainstream media. Typical of tablets based on the Android OS, the touch interface is ragged, not sufficiently sensitive, and responsiveness varies depending on the function. It’s not tight, fluid and smooth, as with the iPad.

Sure, OS updates from Amazon may repair some of the ills, although there are well known architectural issues with Android that impact potential touchscreen performance. Supposedly Google is still fixing the problems with newer OS releases, but Amazon has opted to use an older version that was never actually certified for use in a tablet. Curious. So what they can fix may be sharply limited.

Regardless, the Fire’s cheap price and the integration with Amazon’s famous online storefront may be sufficient to attract loads of buyers, perhaps several million this quarter. But where those sales come from is debatable. Some suggest that people looking at Android tablets will opt for the Fire because of its tight integration with Amazon, and the Kindle’s reputation in the marketplace.

Will they choose the Fire over an iPad? Well, on a head-to-head comparison, the iPad is far superior. But the price and the size may put off some customers. How many is an open question. Amazon has, so far at least, not released specific sales numbers for previous versions of the Kindle beyond a few generalities that aren’t very helpful.

It may also be that some customers may consider the iPad too limiting for their needs. If they go Apple, perhaps they choose a MacBook Air, because they want a traditional personal computer. So far as Apple is concerned, a sale is a sale, and they earn higher profits from Macs.

There is also the question of how many iPads can Apple rightly expect to move each quarter. Because sales have already far eclipsed Macs, it has been assumed that the iPad is a potential replacement for a PC in many situations. While this appears to be true, I wonder how many people out there actually use the iPad as a substitute rather than simply as another device. If the former, the iPad’s potential might not be predictable right now. It hasn’t been on the market long enough to truly know how popular it may ultimately be after the ardor cools, if it cools.

Now I am not raining on anyone’s parade when I tell you that I have not taken to the iPad all that much. I use an iPad 2 occasionally, but my wife has made it her PC of choice. She never spent a whole lot of time with a Mac or PC, and only when it was actually necessary. But she’s addicted to her iPad, and that may indicate a major potential if her choices are echoed by many others. How many people, like her, would happily divest themselves of a PC and use a tablet instead?

For me, the ideal computing environment right now is my desktop iMac, a 27-inch late 2009 model with Intel Core i7 processor. Call me old fashioned. An iPhone 4 follows me whenever I travel. At night it’s placed in the bedroom, on a table, ready for me to check email and perhaps research a site while watching TV or engaging in conversation with the Mrs. I used to bring in a MacBook Pro for evening computing chores, but no more. I still have a 2010 model, but don’t use it nearly as often as I used to.

I’ve tried to adapt to the iPad, but it just doesn’t suit my lifestyle, but the iPhone 4 is more than sufficient for my needs, and it’s more suited for single handed use. If I need a larger screen, and the functionality of a real personal computer, I just walk across the dwelling to the bedroom that serves as an office, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Does my reaction to the iPad, my innate skepticism, mean anything in a wider universe? Are there limitations to the potential of the iPad? Probably not, and we really won’t know how well the iPad 2 is really faring this holiday season until the final numbers are revealed by Apple in the latter part of January.

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7 Responses to “Is the iPad Losing its Luster?”

  1. Ted Schroeder says:

    Nothing against your wife, but for me the iPad is the computer for people who are too stupid to use a computer.

    Also, if you’re unwilling or unable to sit at a desk for most of the day, the iPad is better.

    And I also think of the people who, to this day, struggle with MS Word. People who are the supposed experts at it at their workplace. And if you’ve been on the receiving end of their workflow, you know that they’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And there are millions of them. And they will love the iPad.

    How Apple is going the accommodate these users and ‘regular’ users – I don’t know.

    Some people need to use the file system and many applications at once – some don’t.

    The whole Mac OS v. iOS thing is not an easy problem.

    But I digress.

    • Shock Me says:

      @Ted Schroeder,

      Hey Ted,

      I’m not sure calling people stupid is the best way to get your point across. The iPad is an exceptionally quick, comfortable, and convenient way to complete several tasks that were once only possible on the desktop computer.

      People “struggle” with MS Word because it is feature rich but MS still struggles with placing these features in front of the user when they are needed. There is NO better word processor on the market, but that doesn’t mean that Word doesn’t a great deal of attention to the usability of its many (mostly unused) features.

      My job requires handling a great deal of text entry and text synthesis. In order to do it most efficiently I need multiple screens and a keyboard and access to the network.

      In order for me to use the iPad as an interaction surface for these tasks, it would need to be larger and use the exact same keymap as I have on my hardware keyboard so the transition would be seamless. There would also have to be some means of placing the cursor that is currently accomplished quite handily by the mouse.

      However, for everything else I once needed a computer for the iPad is aces.

      • S. Mulji says:

        @Shock Me,

        “I’m not sure calling people stupid is the best way to get your point across”

        You’re right it may not be the best way to get your point across but on the other hand Ted is right. There are millions upon millions of stupid people in this world. It may offend people pointing it out but it’s the truth.

    • barryotoole says:

      @Ted Schroeder

      I have been using PCs for over 25 years, including Macs for the last three. Since I got my iPad, and then the iPad 2, I have been using it for my tasks most of the time.

      I may not be a techno-geek like you, but I certainly know my way around with computers, and am the go to guy for troubleshooting at work and among friends.

      So I don’t think I’m stupid.

      Also, folks like you are a small sliver of the consumer market. Should I call you stupid because you cannot perform surgery or overhaul an engine? One does not have to be proficient in every area to escape the label of stupid.

      But stupid geeks are too arrogant to see past their noses.

      BTW, this response is typed on an iPad 2, and I’m as fast as I would be on a physical keyboard.

  2. Jim says:

    Technology is moving so fast these days, and I see a growing perception, at least among technology writers and aficionados, that Apple is moving too slowly. Their once a year release schedule seems downright glacial by today’s standards. So, if the iPad (and the iPhone) is losing its luster, it may be at least partially because of this. I have mixed feelings about this.

    As someone who purchased the iPhone 4s, my perception is that it does feel like a fairly minor upgrade in light of the fact that it took 18 months to come to market after the release of the iPhone 4. Nonetheless, I upgraded from the 3GS, so I’m completely satisfied with the iPhone 4.

    And, Gene, I’m kind of with you on the utility of the iPad. It doesn’t seem that there’s enough there to entice me, when I already have an iPhone, MacBook Air, and iMac to handle all my computing chores. If I did pull the trigger on an iPad, I suspect that my iPhone use would diminish greatly, as I’d probably use the iPad for much of the web browsing, texting, and emailing that I mainly use my iPhone for.

  3. Shock Me says:

    I haven’t had a desktop computer in years. All my gaming is on consoles. Everything else made its way to a 13″ MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad.

    When I got my iPad, I did far less browsing and reading on iPhone and MacBook. But that doesn’t mean the other form factors are useless. I still do most of my quick casual games, and mobile email and location–based things on the iPhone. I still rip create long documents, and rip DVDs and play a few games and some online video on my MacBook.

    But my device of first resort is the iPad. The only things I need Apple to move faster on are more and cheaper storage and greater resolution of the display and I will buy a new one and give my current iPad to my mother.

  4. dfs says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m getting old enough that my eyes aren’t all they used to be, but i. m. h. o. surfing the Web on my iPod Touch is sort of a bad joke. I’ve never even bothered with video. The Touch is great for listening to music while taking my nightly walk, and has been vital for me to read e-mail and catch news bulletins when I’m on the road. And of course the calendar and address book come in handy. I recently sprung for a refurbished iPad and am absolutely delighted that it can do all the things I really couldn’t do on my Touch. On the other hand, I can’t imagine taking the iPad with me on a walk. And the next time I need to copy more than a few lines of text I’ll probably spring for an Apple wireless keyboard and use my iPad instead of buying a netbook for the purpose. So no, there’s no great amount of duplication. The Touch and the Pad both have their strengths and weaknesses. Next time I travel I’ll probably keep the Touch in my pocket for the trip and stash the Pad in my carry-on luggage for when I get to the other end. I’m very happy to have both.

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