Rumours of the iPad’s death are exaggerated

Anthony Caruana
7 August, 2017
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When I started working as a school teacher back in the early 90s, and then again later in my corporate life, I was always told to never start a presentation or document with an apology. But rules are made to be broken, and I’m going to start with an apology.

I thought the iPad would be a passing phase. I was wrong, and I’m sorry for making that assumption.

When the iPad was first released, I thought it was a solution looking for a problem. While I always appreciated it as a great feat of engineering, I struggled to see its long-term future. I have similar feelings today about the Apple Watch. Despite the fact that I have purchased many iPads over the years (I’ve never really settled on the ‘perfect’ iPad for me, but I find the iPad Air 2 works well when partnered with an external keyboard case) and last year I purchased an Apple Watch (Apple provided me with review units during the year after its initial release), I continue to struggle with the iPad. It’s almost good enough to replace a laptop, but not quite.

A big part of the problem, I think, stems from the legal requirements for public companies to disclose financial results every quarter. Different products rise, plateau and fall. We saw that this week with Apple killing the last of its music-only iPods – the iPod nano and iPod shuffle. With the iPad, I don’t think it’s falling despite what recent sales figures (before this week’s report) suggest.

The iPad’s problem is that it’s too well made. The only reason to upgrade an old iPad, other than a sudden percussive incident (when one is dropped), is when Apple releases a software update that doesn’t work on the older device and app developers stop supporting older versions of iOS.

I suspect what is happening now is that some of those four- or five-year-old iPads (the iPad is now in its seventh year of production) are ripe for replacement and Apple’s recent decision to drop the price has encouraged the market to upgrade. It’s telling that while the number of iPads sold jumped by almost 30 percent in the last quarter and 15 percent in the same period last year, that revenue was just two percent better.

In other words, while the new iPad Pro offers lots of extra functionality over the iPad and iPad mini, most people don’t need an Apple Pencil or Smart Keyboard.

When Apple released the iPhone, we learned that iOS is really a development fork of macOS. That fork spent several years splitting further, but we are now seeing the two paths coalesce again. A couple of readers wrote to me last week suggesting the only way iOS can be a viable replacement for macOS is for it to have a ‘proper’ file system. That’s coming. We can see it in the new Files app in iOS 11.

The trouble with quarterly results is that they distract us. Apple’s healthy bank balance of over US$261 billion means quarterly results are largely irrelevant. It has enough cash to think in a very long-term way. And, as I have said many times, Apple is a four-platform company. It can afford to play a very long game.

And that ability to play a long game is why the iPad will be around for a very long time.


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