Has the iPad Become Obsolete?

April 29th, 2015

As expected, iPad sales continue to decline at a fairly large pace. To those who thought the skies were the limit with Apple’s tablet computer, and that it would soon take over the PC world, well customers clearly have different priorities. So after a few years of large sales increases, they began to stall in 2014, and the pace of decline only increased in the March quarter.

Now in the scheme of things, selling 12.6 million units of everything is nothing to apologize for. But how the iPad has fallen? The question is why and whether Apple’s hopes and dreams for some stability and sales growth will come to pass.

Or is the tablet market already saturated?

One key element is the replacement factor, and how often iPad owners really want to upgrade. I could see this on a personal level when I received an iPad Air 2 to review from Apple. My wife’s iPad 3 was her constant companion. Knowing it might be a bad move, I handed her the new model to see her reaction. She remarked that it was thinner and seemed faster, but no so much for the sort of things she does, which include Safari, Face-book and her latest boards on Pinterest. None of these tasks really stretch CPU horsepower, so while apps launch more quickly, it wasn’t enough to tempt her to suggest I buy her one of these.

So the return to her own iPad, while quite a bit heavier, wasn’t the sea change you might have expected. I cannot take a survey of one and apply it to a couple of hundred million iPad owners, but I wonder if the changes Apple has made to the iPad are yet sufficient to feed a substantial upgrade cycle. All right, there’s Touch ID and better front and rear cameras, but taking snapshots isn’t necessarily the iPad’s forte.

But if people aren’t upgrading in huge numbers, what about earning new customers? So when Apple talks of first-timer rates of 40% to 70% in the current sales figures, depending on the country, clearly there’s life left in the platform. So perhaps there will come a point where it will come full circle, and owners of older iPads will really decide they must have a new one.

There’s also the cannibalization factor. In his responses to questions during Monday afternoon’s quarterly conference call with financial analysts, CEO Tim Cook said that potential iPad sales were going, instead, to the iPhone and the Mac. I can see the former, where the iPhone 6 Plus, the phablet, has become a proper convergence device for many. Although Apple doesn’t break out figures by model for the iPad, I would think that would hurt sales of the iPad mini. Perhaps that’s why the last refresh was so modest?

I can also see why people, in search of a PC, would just choose a Mac. The iPad may have a display size that’s almost good enough, if you consider the Mac note-books from the 1990s, it’s still very much blown up iPhone without the phone, or a blown up iPod. Apple hasn’t improved multitasking for the larger form factor, and you can’t run apps and multiple documents side by side. It’s still one app at a time, and that severely constrains your workflow.

Indeed, that’s a key reason, other than the lack of suitable apps, why I am not ready to attempt to do my work on an iPad. Recording and editing audio segments for my radio shows requires multiple apps running simultaneously. I capture Skype connections in Audio Hijack. They are edited in Sound Studio and Amadeus Pro, depending on what functions I’m using. Files are uploaded to the GCN network via Transmit, my favorite FTP app. When the shows are posted on iTunes, I use Sound Studio, Feeder and ID3 Editor to ready the files and update the feeds.

I write WordPress blogs directly in Safari, and work in both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages when I require traditional word processing tools. I still handle desktop publishing chores in QuarkXPress — I never did take to Adobe InDesign. While I don’t use it as often as I used to, I did help an author and publisher put a fairly large book into printable form last year.

While I have no religious attraction to any particular app to get my work done, I cannot handle such a workflow on an iPad. But if Apple got the multitasking house in order, perhaps developers would take the hint and make it a more productive tool.

So how does Apple help the iPad regain its luster? Well, what most of you regard as true multitasking is a must! Start with that, and perhaps more flexible ways to manage loads of files for various work-related functions. There are still rumors of a 12.9-inch iPad Pro that would be focused more on the enterprise and content creators. For it to be anything more than just a bigger iPad, Apple would have to deal with the limits of iOS in running multiple apps.

Does that make the iPad the potential PC replacement some expected it to be? I don’t know; I keep an open mind. But it’ll be a hard sell. I’ve been using Macs for more than 30 years, and maybe I’m set in my ways, but I would embrace a better solution.

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5 Responses to “Has the iPad Become Obsolete?”

  1. RDS says:

    The answer is simple….. iPads last too long lol. Unless you have to have the newest of everything, they will be on a 4 or 5 year upgrade life.

    Have a ipad 2 and 4 here…. would only upgrade this year for the rumoured bigger iPad pro.

  2. patrick says:

    A full-sized tablet is pricey to a huge segment of the population. It Air is beautiful, but people are going to opt for a laptop first. An iPad is nice to have.

    An iPad mini is more approachable in price.

    If the iPad could have extra hardware to make it a 2-1 device, to make it an Apple laptop, that would be great. I know you can buy aftermarket keyboards.

    It definitely seems like a niche product. We have one, but the full-sized ones are pricey as a consumption device.

  3. dfs says:

    I rarely have need for a laptop, but every now and then a situation crops up where I really have to have one. I justify the expense for an iPad by convincing myself it’s a really, really cheap laptop when teamed up with a wireless keyboard. Otherwise, my iPad tends to sit around gathering dust unless I am traveling, at which time it becomes an invaluable lifeline. Then it becomes invaluable, entertaining me on the plane, where I use it to read and listen to music, or to watch pre-installed videos, and also use it as an e-mail/surfing device so I can stay in touch with the rest of the world. But there are annoying drawbacks: i.) constant anxiety caused by the issue of battery life (is it going to last for the length of a long haul flight? Will I have any trouble recharging it in a Mongolian hotel?). At this point Kindle’s “it lasts months, not hours” slogan becomes mighty attractive. ii.) Weight. If you try to read a book with your iPad, pretty soon you discover that even the iPad Air 2 model, the lightest ever made, weighs heavy on your hands, so you find another reason for envying the guy in the seat next to you who’s using a Kindle. (I’ve never tried an iPad mini, which puts me off because it seems like it’s neither fish nor fowl — and, because of the issues of weight and bulkiness, don’t get me started on the rumored oversize Pro model).

    On the plus side: there are some apps that look good on an iPhone but absolutely beautiful on an iPad, a real treat for the eyes, so using one can be a delightful experience. On the other hand, some vaunted features of the iPad seem little more than silly. Sure, the Air 2 model has a nifty 8 megapixel camera. But using it is kind of like taking a picture with a cafeteria tray. I’d rather wait for an iPhone with this same camera, and I bet that will turn up as a much-advertised feature on iPhone 7.

  4. John says:

    The iPad will always come up short against a MacBook when pressed to be a MacBook. The iPad shines when allowed to play to its strengths which are portability and simplicity. If I’m sitting in one spot most of the day then an iMac or MacBook is the tool of choice. When I’m wandering around, reading messages, taking notes, documenting procedures then the iPad shines.

    Taking pictures with the iPad is fine. If that is the camera you have then use it. It is great for documenting things when those pictures go immediately into a document. That is much faster than pulling out your phone, launching a camera app and then exporting the picture to the iPad. Instead just grab a picture (of a building, a room, a machine or small parts) using the note taking app you are already using.

    When I’m using another machine in the lab it is great to have the iPad nearby to document the activity. It is much less intrusive than setting up a MacBook. The same goes for meetings. Sometimes I can create outlines in Keynote on the fly and then email that document at the end of the meeting. That is far faster than having to transcribe had written notes.

    I really like that taking notes with NoteSuite or Keynote or Pages results in the same document appearing on my MacBook when I get to a place where I can use that device. iCloud is great.

    Going forward, I’d like to see a larger iPad. One with an accurate digitizer so that using a stylus would be almost as nice as using a pencil with paper. I’d like a Bluetooth microphone so that I can discreetly use Siri to transcribe short notes. Also, Siri needs to really step up her game when it comes to technical vocabulary. It would be OK with me if I had to specially request a scientific vocabulary. Try reading off the list of elements and see what happens.

    More RAM would help as would a faster processor. I can see leaving the MacBook home for short trips and using Splashtop to remotely login to the desktop/laptop at home for occasional use. I’ve tried this and it works OK, but the small size of the current screen makes this difficult. It requires too much panning and zooming for routine work.

    Other software needs to be improved, mostly Pages and Keynote for me.

    I’m interested in some sort of multitasking. It could be very useful. I don’t see the split screen being that useful. I’d like a Picture-In-Picture approach. That way I could write into a document while viewing a small floating screen from another app. Resizing the other app screen would be needed. This way you could watch a presentation and take notes at the same time on one device.

    A larger screen would also make it easier to use a keyboard/case. Currently the small screen of the iPad dictates a too small keyboard.

  5. John says:

    On a completely different tack, we should note that the iPad is very popular with people who don’t need the features most of us are requesting. I know of a number of people in their 80s using iPads. I know of various spouses and friends of spouses who were more or less computer-phobic who absolutely love their iPads. I don’t know what these people want to see in a future iPad. I’m sure that if their iPad stopped working they would quickly replace it.

    My mom, my wife and my sister use FaceTime to communicate a lot. My wife uses FT with her parents in Japan. It was just in the news today that the Japanese Postal service is tying up with Apple and IBM to supply some 5 million iPads to senior citizens in Japan (for a fee). The Japanese Postal service is involved because they are already interested in helping seniors. Since the postman already visits every house in Japan every day it is easy for them to add on services for the elderly.

    My point is that there may be a lot more uses for the iPad than we have imagined.

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