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Has the iPad Become Obsolete?

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.