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  • Is Apple Making the Case for the iPad?

    October 15th, 2014

    Let’s put all this in perspective. Before the iPad arrived, the typical tablet computer was basically a note-book with a touchscreen. The display might swivel, it might be removable, but it was all a variation on a theme. One thing is certain, though, and that is the fact that, after being touted for years by Microsoft as the next great thing, tablets never succeeded in the mass market.

    The 2010 introduction of the iPad changed a lot. Rather than derive from a note-book, the iPad came across, at first glance, as a larger iPod touch in physical form. The internal workings were the same or similar to the iPhone, minus the telephone and the larger display. Over time, apps took advantage of the larger screen real estate, and, with an accessory physical keyboard, you might actually have a thinner and lighter replacement for a note-book.

    A rich collection of iPad-specific apps appeared, and, in the case of Microsoft Office for the iPad, were exclusive to the platform. A true touch version of Office for Windows is not yet here. Predictably sales soared for the first couple of years, and it did seem as if the sky was the limit. Would the iPad be the ultimate note-book replacement? What about using them in schools and businesses? The iPad also seemed to have the potential of a successful life as the front end of a point-of-sale or customer information system.

    This was big news. Predictably, the competition built tablets in the iPad’s image. After a while, the iPad lost its majority status in the marketplace, although the numbers remained questionable. Industry analysts were giving lots of weight to white box or no-name tablets that sold for less than $100 and were mostly toys rather than serious consumption and productivity devices. Worse, the sales figures were difficult to verify.

    Efforts to sell PC tablets stagnated. They were all variations of the convertible note-book theme, thinner and lighter venisons of the failed concepts that were tried over and over again since Microsoft first came up with a tablet concept. That’s true of the Surface 3, by the way.

    Regardless, some wonder if the bottom hasn’t dropped out of the tablet business pioneered by Apple. Sales are flat or declining across the board, and even the venerable iPad has seen better days. Apple has given some excuses about supply chain inventory management and such, but it rings hollow. Lower sales are lower sales, so what’s wrong?

    Is it possible the tablet market was more limited than Apple expected, that the iPad has reached its plateau and it’s all downhill from here? What about the simple fact that people aren’t as apt to replace a tablet as a smartphone?

    With a smartphone, you can easily upgrade every couple of years at a subsidized price. The incentive to upgrade an iPad is less. As with a personal computer, it’s very possible you might keep one for three or four years, although you will probably have to replace the battery before then if you use it heavily.

    Yes, that might be a reason.

    The other is that smartphones may actually reduce the need for a tablet for many of you. This is particularly true with the so-called phablets. True, they are quite a bit smaller than an iPad mini, but as a combo device, it may be sufficient, although they are still a little awkward to use for phone calls.

    So we have the iPhone 6 Plus, and demand is off the charts. So are customers considering them as all-in-one devices to serve as both smartphone and tablet? For some people, yes, and it may well be that sales of Apple’s biggest iPhone may well cannibalize the iPad mini. Regardless, a sale is a sale, and Apple has never been shy about cannibalizing their own products.

    When it comes to the iPad, though, the question is whether it’s a case of inflated expectations, or a new product category still seeking the right audience. Surely Apple’s deal with IBM will make a difference in the enterprise, but what about regular consumers? How many find an iPad useful, if not an essential tool?

    For me, it’s a non-starter. Really! My wife has had a third generation iPad since 2012, and I use it occasionally, but mostly to fix a problem for her. She has adopted the thing, and almost always has it with her. She has played with an iPhone and found it wanting in terms of the small display size. She can write email well enough on the iPad, but hasn’t quite gotten accustomed to the tiny touchscreen of a smartphone. Maybe an iPhone 6 Plus would help some, but that still wouldn’t be sufficient for her.

    My son, Grayson, is thinking whether to sell off his black MacBook, circa 2008, and buy an iPad Air. But he also does a fair amount of writing, and might chafe at the more limited environment, even with an accessory keyboard.

    So there you have a family of three, with only one confirmed iPad user. I cannot say that my experience mirrors that of others. To me, an iPad might some day become a note-book replacement, but I cannot see it replacing my Mac at any time in the near future. Maybe for others, and that’s the serious question Apple will want to answer as the next generation iPad is readied for the October 16th media event.



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