Everything Apple touches turns to gold (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally), right? That’s the common wisdom these days. If it’s not record sales for Apple products, it’s the gold look in Apple’s Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
All that glitters isn’t gold, though. Apple’s iPad, arguably the best of the world’s tablet-sized devices, has suffered on the sales front in the past year or so. While every other competitor would love to have Apple’s problems with the iPad, it’s become obvious that the post-PC era isn’t the iPad; it’s mobile devices in general. What did Apple do wrong?
Nothing. And Everything.
The problem with Apple’s iPad sales are more reflective of the device itself and the competition surrounding post-PC era mobile products. Mac sales are at record levels. iPhone sales are at record levels.
iPad sales are dropping; slowly to be sure, but a steady, continuing drop. Why?
I posit that iPad was a hit initially because it was so good; a big iPhone that took away plenty of Mac functions, packed into a highly mobile, big screen device that dwarfed– even with the iPad mini– Apple’s iPhones at the time. Customers bought the iPad by the tens of millions; to a point where nearly 300-million units have been sold since the launch in 2010.
So, what’s the problem now? Three things.
First, bigger smartphone screens. 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens are the norm, and even Apple moved in that direction; admittedly late, but a larger screen is attractive, and many customers cannot justify the iPad as an extra expense if their smartphone already has a larger screen.
Second, the iPad itself, while a powerful device, has seen only incremental improvements in functionality; first a Retina display, then the standard iOS upgrades, now faster CPU and graphics, and finally Touch ID (already in the iPhone for a few years). That means the value proposition does not have the urgency that the iPhone commands. Plus, iPad is a well built device which, obviously, performs its most important functions even on older devices. That also means the upgrade cycle– the period when owners hand off their older iPads and buy a new one– is likely to be more Mac-like than iPhone-like. iPad Pro won’t stem the sales drop as it is aimed primarily at professionals.
Finally, the Mac itself has become smaller and lighter, yet remains far more powerful than an iPad. Kate Mackenzie has a good shootout between the highness iPad Pro vs. the new MacBook. The Mac is far more powerful for similar money, and is a far more capable device thanks to the Intel Inside CPU line, and the ability to run OS X, Windows, Linux, and various flavors of Unix (all at the same time, if necessary).
Notice that I didn’t mention tablet competition, though that is more intense than ever. That’s partly because the tablet category is so broad and the iPad makes up just one segment. Microsoft’s hybrid devices are less tablet than they are notebook without a keyboard. Amazon’s Kindle devices simply don’t match the iPad’s capabilities. At some point in the near future we’ll see iPad sales units stabilize as the upgrade cycle begins to mature, but one could argue that Apple is trying to sell us too many mobile devices. For one, I’m glad they have what they have.