Just so you know, I still do not own an Apple Watch. It’s not on my radar, although I’d certainly be happy to review one if I had the opportunity.
I got in the habit of wearing a wristwatch when I was quite young. It was first a means to emulate my elders, but it had an obvious practical purpose. When I got into broadcasting, I used a chronograph, so I could run a timer when recording a commercial or just doing a special segment. And, yes, I realize lots of people aren’t into watches. Barbara owns several watches, but rarely wears any of them.
As I’ve mentioned before, I still have that $12.88 stainless steel calendar watch that I bought from Walmart a couple of years ago. It received a battery replacement last year and continues to keep time with reasonable accuracy.
From time to time, I do encounter people with an Apple Watch on their wrists. If I strike up a conversation, I will ask them about it. Sometimes I have a chance to try one out for a few moments, but I’m still not quite convinced. Maybe if I had more time with one.
Overall, people I’ve talked to like them but don’t love them. It’s not the same adoration that you find with an iPhone. Still, Apple has become the number one maker of smartwatches, and Tim Cook reported sales more than doubling in Apple’s key markets during the last quarter. This despite claims that sales must be eroding. Maybe they’re confusing the Apple Watch with the iPad.
That takes us to this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we featured Adam Engst, of TidBITS. He talked about the recent sale of Take Control Books to prolific author Joe Kissell. What does Adam and his wife Tanya do for an encore? He also talked about Apple’s March 2017 quarterly sales, particularly the results for the iPhone and the Mac. You also heard comparisons with Microsoft’s Surface, and the new Surface Laptop, which is designed to compete with Apple and Google in the educational market. And what about reports of growing Apple Watch sales? Has Apple been able to make it a gadget that you’ll really love once you have a chance to use it? As you’ve seen so far, I’m not yet convinced.
You also heard from outspoken commentator and podcaster Peter Cohen. In talking about Apple’s financials, Peter explained why the company “doesn’t get the cloud.” He covered ongoing problems with reliability and integration, and what Apple might do to resolve the problem. The discussion moved into backups, featuring Apple’s Time Machine, which has been standard issue on Macs since 2008. Is it the ideal backup solution? What about clone backups and offside cloud storage? Peter also explained why Time Machine must soon change because of the expected release of a final version of the Apple File System (APFS), perhaps with the next macOS. It’s now available on iOS 10.3. He also talked about Microsoft’s Surface Laptop and how it will fare against Google Chromebooks, which are becoming more popular at school systems in the U.S.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We’ve asked the question: Where are the young paranormal researchers, the next generation of people to take over after our generation passes on? Then we heard from Colin Schneider, a 16-year-old cryptozoologist from Ohio, who appears in a live Internet radio show as “The Crypto-Kid.” Colin says,” I have researched extensively include folklore of dwarves around the world; connections between fairy lore and cryptids; cryptid attacks of livestock; and Ohio Dogman reports.” After you listen to this brilliant young man on this fascinating episode, you’ll feel reassured that these fields of study are in good hands.
When the iPad debuted in 2010, it arrived with great fanfare. While Microsoft had touted tablets for years, they hadn’t gone anywhere beyond some vertical markets. So I recall that my wife’s former family doctor used them. They came in the form of a perfectly ordinary notebook computer with a touchscreen. But using them was an awkward process, no doubt because of an OS that wasn’t mobile savvy, and apps that required endless taps and swipes to make basic data entries.
Some say that tablets debuted in the 1968 sci-fi classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but they were essentially portable displays, not personal computers. A closer counterpart was the tablet used in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” But the ones used by Captain Picard and crew were mostly information devices, to check status and make simple entries. They weren’t used for basic text entry. The ship’s log and other documents were prepared by dictating to the ship’s onboard computer. So, in a sense, actress Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, as the voice of the Star Trek computer, was the first Siri.
But when Steve Jobs demonstrated the original iPad, he sat there dutifully typing on its touchscreen, boasting that the keyboard was large enough to enter text in comfort. But even his legendary reality distortion field wasn’t sufficient to convince people that typing on glass was better than typing on a real keyboard.
True, Apple has built keyboards with reduced key travel in recent years for the MacBook, MacBook Pro and the Magic Keyboard. But they still feel like keyboards and, when you become accustomed to them, the experience is mostly acceptable.
It is for me. But typing on glass is at best suited to short messages. Accessory keyboards for the iPad and other tablets aren’t as good as they should be. The feel and action never seems to approach that of a regular computer keyboard, and even the better ones present a clumsy use case. I recall working on both iPad Pros, with a Smart Keyboard, and awkwardly manipulating the case so it sort of resembled a notebook computer.
But the setup represents the worst example of Apple’s mantra that a 2-in-1 notebook with a touchscreen is akin to attempting to merge a refrigerator with a toaster oven. How is it different on the iPad? If anything, it’s more awkward, and you still have to reach up to the display for many functions.
Nonetheless, the iPad can replace a notebook for some people on the road, assuming they aren’t writing novels. Granted, people do manage to work with an accessory keyboard attached to these devices, and they do type blogs and longer manuscripts with reasonable comfort and high levels of accuracy. Bless them! It just doesn’t work for me, and I’ve really tried.
My wife spends a lot of time on her iPad. But she mostly writes short messages, and never requests a real keyboard. I have one or two around for her if the need arises, but she’s happy to have a portable device with a large enough display to actually do what she wants. She has some vision problems and thus doesn’t really care for her iPhone 5c except to make and receive phone calls.
I rarely touch her iPad except to run a software update or to fix a problem.
Now most of you know my concerns about the iPad as a productivity device. To me, it’s because the apps I need to record my radio shows aren’t available in iOS versions. One reason is the constraints of Apple’s sandboxing scheme, and yes I appreciate the added security. But I would consider using a 12.9-inch iPad Pro for remote recording, if the apps I needed were available.
It’s also clear that the public, after a short flirtation with the iPad and other tablets, seems to be losing interest in these things. Sales of the iPad have dropped for 13 straight quarters after achieving consistent record sales. In the March 2017 quarter, Apple sold 8.9 million of them, with a total revenue of $3.8 billion. In the year-ago quarter, sales were 10.3 million units, with earnings of $4.4 billion.
Worldwide tablet sales, according to IDC, also fell. So it’s not that Apple has done anything wrong.
Some suggest that the iPad is so good that people keep them longer before upgrading. But after over three years of slumping sales, one would think that owners of the earliest iPads would, by now, be buying new ones in decent numbers. The mainstream fifth generation iPad lists for $329 in its basic configuration, and, though a little thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2, is otherwise a terrific deal. It’s also much faster than the older models, so why aren’t people lining up to buy them?
Apple claims businesses love them, and it’s true that a number of companies use iPads for remote data gathering, point-of-sale and other purposes. School systems use them in lower grades, but are otherwise moving towards Google Chromebooks when real notebooks with real keyboards are required. Mac notebooks are just too expensive.
In part, Apple may have contributed to the cannibalization of the iPad market beginning with the iPhone 6 Plus phablet. While much smaller than any iPad, the display is large enough for it to serve as a reasonably convenient multipurpose product. If that’s not enough, customers can always buy a Mac, and it’s true that Mac sales are on the rise despite a lack of upgrades for most models.
So is it possible people have come to feel that the iPad really isn’t all that well suited for productivity, except for specialized tasks? Certainly an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro are quite useful for artists and other creative people. But if you just want to watch Netflix on a small display, an iPad is probably overpriced. Just about any decent tablet will do.
My son, Grayson, for example, bought a 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire so he can watch Netflix fare while on the go. When he visited us last winter, he never asked if he could watch TV on my 27-inch-iMac. or share time on the family TV. Instead, he just set up his little tablet on a makeshift stand or simply held it in his hands. For basic consumption, an iPad may just be overkill.
But Apple claims to be dedicated to improving the iPad. There were rumors about iPad refreshes, including an edge-to-edge 10.5-inch iPad Pro, earlier this year. The rumors faded after the fifth generation iPad arrived in March. Maybe this fall.
This doesn’t mean that Apple should give up on the iPad. Selling nearly $4 billon worth of product in a single quarter is nothing to sneeze at. Even if sales continue to fall, it will be a long time before the numbers become insignificant. Maybe the iPad needs a wider variety of apps — and Apple needs to open the App Store to additional possibilities. Maybe iOS will be updated to better exploit the iPad’s larger displays and provide more robust multitasking schemes. Maybe a new generation of keyboards and cases will make it easier to convert them into faux notebooks.
Maybe I’ll decide one fine day that a new generation iPad is destined to become my perfect computer. But that depends on Apple and its ability to take the iPad to a whole new level.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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