Can the iPad be saved? Currently the metrics aren’t pretty. Apple’s financial results reported last week for its fiscal 2017 first quarter (which ended December 31, 2016) revealed iPad sales down 22 percent year-over-year on the quarter.
The “Preliminary Global Tablet Shipments and Market Share: Q4 2016” report from Strategy Analytics’ Tablet & Touchscreen Strategies (TTS) service notes that shipments of 13.1 million iPads in (calendar) Q4 2016 were below projections at 13.1 million iPads in Q4 2016 leaving Apple with 21 percent share of the global tablet market — still hanging on to its status of top tablet vendor, but a far cry from the halcyon days when iPads accounted for 90-plus percent of all tablets sold.
Strategy Analytics also observes that in a reversal of a 5-quarter trend, iPad average selling prices dropped four percent year-on-year to $423 as iPad buyers opted for lower-priced models like the $499 iPad Air 2 and the $269 iPad mini 4, and largely shunned the higher priced iPad Pro models.
According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, for every 10 iPads shipped, Apple only sold 1 iPad Pro tablet.
What happened? For a brief shining moment, the iPad was Apple’s star product, with tablets predicted by many to be the future of personal computing. Then the bottom fell out. iPad sales grew in a steady curve from Steve Jobs’s unveiling the device in early 2010, ultimately peaking at 26.04 million units sold in Apple’s fiscal Q4 2014, and since then tracking a near mirror image downward curve to 13.08 million iPads sold in Q1/2017.
And beyond? Apple has attempted to create an alternate market for the iPad as a tool for enterprise institutional and professional users highlighted by its MobileFirst For IOS business software development and hardware distribution deal with IBM, and release of two “Pro” models in 2015 and 2016. However the sales volume dominance of lower priced models in Q1 2017 indicates only modest success of the iPad Pro strategy.
In my estimation this has been partly due to Apple’s stubborn intransigence about addressing several deficiencies that defeat the iPad as a truly satisfactory productivity tool. Examples are the iPad/iOS lack of multi-window multitasking (Split View has always seemed like a half-baked kludge), non support of drag-and-drop text editing between open windows, no document content level search engine, and no support for external pointing and clicking devices. Styluses have their place in image editing and such, and I’ve made my peace with touchscreen control on iPads and iPhones, but there are a lot of production tasks I shunt to the MacBook even when there’s a workaround possible on the iPad. For example, working with spreadsheets is frustrating without a mouse.
Actually, it’s not only professionals and power users who pine for mouse support in the iPad. My wife, who uses computers mainly for email, Web surfing, shopping, and social media, utterly detests touch control, and refuses to use her iPad if there’s a laptop or desktop computer with a mouse available.
It seems to me that it should be not terribly difficult to add a mouse driver to the iOS, which has long supported Bluetooth keyboards. Why Apple has stubbornly foot-dragged in providing mouse support, lack of which so many iPad users consider a major obstacle preventing the iPad from serving as an adequate laptop replacement, is a conundrum.
Another huge iPad deficiency as a serious multi-purpose work tool is that it has no user accessible file level file directory, which makes for example tasks like uploading images to Website forms (e.g.:Wordpress) or working on a particular document (other than plain text docs) with more than one app impossible. I appreciate that fixing this shortcoming would be much more difficult than adding a mouse driver, because it would require a major departure from the iOS’s app based rather than document based architecture, but unless a way can be found to address this need, the iPad will remain compromised as a production device.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved both of my iPads, and I wouldn’t want to be without one, but I haven’t found any compelling reason to upgrade from my iPad Air 2. The iPad Pros are nice machines, but I’m not inclined to spend laptop money on a device as compromised as even the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the 9.7-inch model isn’t a big enough improvement over the Air 2 to justify an upgrade.
The 12.9-inch iPad starts at $799, and with the pricy optional keyboard, Apple Pencil stylus, and a respectable amount of memory sells for more than a much more versatile MacBook Air. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $599, which eliminates any mystery why the holdover $399 Air 2 is massively outselling it.
However, if Apple were to fix some of the problems outlined above, I’m convinced it would change that dynamic considerably, but so far there isn’t any rumor buzz I’ve heard that indicates more production friendly features may be coming with the new tranche of iPads expected to be unveiled in a few weeks. We’ll see.
So can the iPad be saved? I don’t think Apple is fixing to discontinue making tablets, and one rumor that is making the rounds is that an iOS based clamshell laptop (can’t really call it a Mac if it doesn’t run macOS) is under development at Apple. Such a machine would require a new wave of laptop-oriented iOS apps, and presumably a mouse driver and some USB-3 ports. It would be illogical to prevent such software from supporting the iPad Pro, which would hopefully get a USB 3 port or two as well, and via that convoluted route it’s at least conceivable that the iPad might finally realize its full potential as a production tool. If Apple wants to sell “Pro” iPads, it needs to decide to accommodate the practical needs of professional users.