Why are iPad sales falling? Why are tablet sales falling?
Is it the fault of Apple and other computer makers for not designing their gear in a way that makes them indispensable for more uses than watching Netflix, checking some sites and sending email? Why did sales begin to fall after reaching a peak in 2014?
One reason may be that there’s no compelling reason to upgrade other than to get somewhat faster performance. But if you have an original iPad, an iPad 2 or the first iPad mini, you might want to buy something newer if you crave a Retina display. iOS 10 requires an iPad Mini 2 or later, and a 4th generation iPad or later. But these shortcomings shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the device you have.
Still, the fact that Apple cut out some older iPads with iOS 10 would, one would think, have encouraged some users to upgrade. Or maybe they did, and it just wasn’t enough to make a significant difference in sales.
One thing is clear: Apple didn’t develop the iPad to fail, and I would expect they are busy looking at ways to make them indispensable. Aside from the fact that the iPhone “Plus” models, with 5.5-inch screens, may have cannibalized some sales, particularly from the iPad mini, it may be that Apple needs to make changes in the OS and the types of software allowed via the App Store. Right now, the prospects for using the iPad as a productivity tool are hit or miss. Some manage, others — and I’m an example — don’t.
I remain curious to see what Apple does to reboot the iPad. The chances that it’ll fade away anytime soon is slim to none.
Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer. During this session, John talked with Gene about the possibilities of running macOS apps on iPads, whether Apple is moving more and more functionality on Macs to ARM, and whether a total processor switch is in the offing. The discussion also covered Tim Cook’s statement that iPhone tech has plenty of room to grow, possible reasons for falling iPad sales, the possibility that the Apple Watch may become a BioMed lab, and what went wrong with the fourth generation Apple TV.
You also heard from outspoken columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Kirk also talked about the prospects for moving the Mac to Apple’s ARM-based A-series processors and the reasons for falling iPad sales. Can Apple find a new direction to boost sales for its tablets? The discussion also included the varying opinions of Gene and Kirk about the value of trackpads, why Kirk no longer uses his Apple Watch and why, for now at least, Gene doesn’t plan to buy one. And what about those Wi-Fi glitches with the LG UltraFine 5K display, which has resulted in a design change to improve shielding. Kirk wonders why LG didn’t catch this defect during product testing.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return appearance from our favorite UFO curmudgeon, Don Ecker. During this episode, Don will catch up on UFO lore, incredible lunar mysteries, the sighings he’s looked into, the hoaxes he’s exposed, some of the curious characters he’s run across. Don is the host of the one and original “Dark Matters” radio show. Accept no substitutes; the name has been used by other shows and sites. In addition to hosting radio shows about UFOs, Don and his wife Vicki Ecker were the former editors and publishers of America’s UFO Magazine, which was available on the newsstands for a number of years.
At one time, it as felt that personal computers, in the twilight of the PC era, would serve the job as pickup trucks. Regular people would rely on “sedans,” tablets, to perform most computing functions. At least that’s what Steve Jobs told us. I won’t compare this to the American auto industry, where people have begun to choose trucks, SUVs and crossovers over sedans.
In any case, iPad sales kept climbing from its introduction in 2010 through 2013. Then it hit the wall, as sales began to drop the following year, a trend that continues across the tablet market to this very day.
PC sales mostly continue to fall. The Microsoft Surface lineup had a 2% sales decrease during the holiday quarter. Mac sales climbed to 5.4 million from 5.3 million, but some will remind us that Apple’s December quarter actually had an extra week, so if you follow week-by-week sales, there was a small drop. Choose which version you want.
I suppose PC makers can take comfort in the fact that the sales decrease for some companies wasn’t very large last year, and it increased for some. So the PC may be nearing the end of its days, but it’s not coming as fast as some might expect. Indeed, it may just be that most of these machines are good enough that there’s little reason for people to buy new gear. It doesn’t help that Intel processors don’t improve all that much year-over-year, so why bother?
Many Windows users are sticking with Windows 7, circa 2009, although it does appear that Windows 10 is probably good enough for companies to consider migrating. You’d think after more than seven years, a company interested in performance and security would want to switch over to the newest OS, and perhaps that’ll be true going forward. But Microsoft reported a mere 5% increase in the sale of Windows OEM licenses in the December quarter. Part of that may be due to the fact that some people opted to buy new computers, rather than just pay for Windows 10, which exited a free update program last summer.
Although Apple continues to reaffirm its commitment to the Mac, some wonder if those words mean anything anymore. After all, 2016 passed without much in the way of upgrades until the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar came along. To some, it wasn’t the right choice. Making it slimmer and lighter wasn’t as important as improving battery life and performance.
And how dare Apple not offer 32GB of RAM?
Now tech gear certainly has its tradeoffs, and Apple said that using a memory controller that allowed for doubling RAM from 16GB would have meant slower memory — and hence performance — and lower battery life. Considering that the time between charges is already a testy issue for some, I suspect Apple made a good choice. The speedier drives also compensate, since virtual memory won’t have as much of a performance hit.
To be sure, battery life became a huge issue as some users complained that it wasn’t good enough, that it didn’t match the level of the 2015 MacBook Pro. But Apple released two macOS Sierra updates that might help. Fixes included the transition from integrated to discrete graphics on the 15-inch version of the Late 2016 model. Those fixes were intended to improve battery life. Another fix was designed to fix a bug that evidently only impacted Consumer Reports magazine and its peculiar scheme for testing batteries on notebook computers.
So CR has made the curious decision to use a single test to evaluate battery life, involving repeatedly downloading 10 sites from a server. It also involved switching off the caching in the computer’s default browser, to create an especially artificial situation that wouldn’t be duplicated in normal use. But evidently it was somehow meant to judge all notebooks in the same fashion.
It also yielded weird test results, where batteries would last hours longer than under normal use. But perhaps it doesn’t matter to CR’s testers that real users would never be able to match the extraordinary battery life the magazine reported for many models. At least it was consistent from one unit to the next.
With the MacBook Pro, it got really bent out of shape, because there was an obscure bug in Safari that only appeared when you used the Develop menu feature to turn off the cache. That setting yielded inconsistent battery life from test to test, resulting in a decision not to recommend the MacBook Pros.
Apple acted quickly, and worked with CR to isolate the problem that resulted from this offbeat test routine. The 10.12.3 update reportedly contains that fix, though it’s not specifically documented in the release notes. Still, CR reported stellar battery life, way more than the 10 hours claimed by Apple, and all was right in the world.
But the actual future of the Mac may have been revealed in the Touch Bar. Apple devised a setup that uses an ARM system-on-a-chip and a derivative of watchOS to run the Touch Bar in an otherwise Intel environment. That it works at all is a tribute to Apple’s expertise in managing its various platforms, and it may be the harbinger of a future where twin or “Fusion” processor systems may be used to pass off more and more functions to ARM. That would free Intel silicon to work more efficiently, not to mention improved battery life.
Whether it leads to the exclusive use of ARM on Macs is anyone’s guess. There are valid reasons to stick with Intel, such as the ability to run Windows and other operating systems with great performance on a virtual machine.
Right now the road beyond the Touch Bar is speculative, but I have little doubt that Apple can accomplish some fascinating things. It also represents a big investment in the future of the Mac, and a sure way to differentiate the platform even further from the Windows competition.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis
Print This Issue