So let’s look at the early reviews of the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3. They come from that privileged group of journalists who get an early look at brand new Apple gear. In passing, I wouldn’t presume to suggest that Apple favors those who grant positive coverage, since the reviews do have some all-too-typical complaints about whether the refreshes are significant enough.
But they do miss the point.
You see, Tim Cook admitted during this week’s quarterly conference call with financial analysts that Apple doesn’t really have a handle on the iPad upgrade cycle yet. It’s clear it’s less frequent than smartphones, where most of you can renew your wireless contract every two years and buy the latest and greatest gear at a discount price. So even a first generation iPad is perfectly usable, although it cannot be upgraded to iOS 8.
Despite this, Tim Cook spoke of more than 50% of iPad purchases being to people who never bought one before. This is of special importance, because it means that the market is definitely not saturated. But Apple clearly needs more new business to boost flagging sales, so is there a magic bullet, or does it require simply keeping on to keep the product on the front burner?Clearly Apple has no plans on giving up or even cutting back.
Now the most significant product refresh of the current cycle is the iPad Air 2. It’s thinner, with a newer, faster processor, the A8x, an enhanced version of the chip that powers the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, along with Touch ID and a better camera. The benchmarks are outstanding, much better than last year’s iPads, and superior to what competing tablets from other companies offer. One reviewer even suggested that benchmarks are in line with what you’d see on a new Mac in 2011. We’re talking of true desktop class power here, but I am not assuming that Macs will soon move to ARM when performance comes closer to today’s Intel hardware.
The key is that the iPad Air 2 is powerful enough for any task thrown at it, as the critics state. One criticism that I hope Apple can address, though, is multitasking. Certainly a mobile computer with power comparable to a 2011 Mac is certainly capable of presenting two or more apps and/or documents on the same screen. Even the lowly compact Mac from the late 1980s offered such multitasking, though via a more primitive method, with far less CPU horsepower.
Now I suppose it is possible Apple is working on such a multiple app solution, and that it will happen before iOS 9 arrives. There’s little doubt that this year’s and last year’s iPads are quite capable of handling the extra load. The arrival of Office for iPad only heightens the need for improved multitasking. Besides, you can already do this on an Android tablet, and Google’s platform doesn’t offer near the number of productivity apps.
But the reviews mostly focus on whether the new iPads are sufficiently tempting for users of older models to upgrade. The conclusion is that they are wanting. Even though the iPad mini 3 is essentially the same as last year’s model with Touch ID added, it’s still more than good enough to get the job done. But even if Apple installed an A8x chip on the mini, would that make it more attractive for upgraders? Does Apple need to take the kitchen sink approach and throw everything possible inside to earn higher sales?
What the critics seem to forget is that an iPad is a platform to run apps. When your existing iPad cannot run an app with the performance you need, it’s time to upgrade. But not before. For those new to the product, or the iOS platform, it’s also very much about the ease of use and integration of iOS along with the ability to get the apps you want, whether games, messaging, or productivity.
For customers, an iPad is also a learning experience. I expect many are experimenting to see how it fits with their own lifestyles and workflows. Some will go back to a personal computer, and Apple hopes it’s a Mac. Or they might seek a larger smartphone, such as the iPhone 6 Plus. Again, if Apple gets the sale, well and good. It’s also conceivable that, as features and apps are added to iPad, it may become a more suitable note-book replacement.
But I’ll make no guesses about the potential for an iPad Pro, and I remain fully skeptical that Apple would ever do a convertible note-book with a touchscreen. The potential for such a gadget remains unproven.
Apple is also making the big push into education, where it reportedly holds a 90% share of tablet penetration, and the enterprise. The new deal with IBM, just starting to come to fruition, could represent a huge boost for iPad sales. Remember that when employees are exposed to iPads at work, perhaps they’ll consider buying one or two for the home.
It’s early in the game, and the iPad’s potential probably hasn’t been realized yet. At the same time, when reviewers suggest that a new model isn’t new enough, they continue to miss the point. Maybe they’d prefer if Apple built a curved iPad.