Have Apple's iPads Peaked? - InformationWeek

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9/17/2014
01:04 PM
Michael Endler
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Have Apple's iPads Peaked?

Many reviewers consider Apple's new iPhones to be essential upgrades. Now the company needs new iPads that inspire the same excitement.

from low-margin markets in which premium-minded Apple doesn't even bother to compete. But the growth of these cheap tablets has driven down component costs. That means that while cheaper tablets were once marked by shoddy build quality and lousy screens, many of the new options are much nicer -- perhaps nice enough to sway would-be iPad customers who'd prefer to save a few dollars. Certainly, if all you need to do is browse the Web, watch movies, and send email, the extra money you'd spend on an iPad is hard to justify.

At the mid-to-high end, the newest Intel-powered tablets are much more capable and attractive than last year's models. Indeed, the newest 2-in-1 devices are so slim, light, and powerful, some have begun to question whether "pure" tablets such as the iPad are even necessary.

These challenges don't mean the iPad will fade away. Among tablets, only iPads feature iOS, which is a selling point for many users, especially given that all those flashy new 2-in-1s run the unpopular Windows 8.1. But more than ever, the iPad needs a legitimate advance to reignite sales. Apple has applied iterative improvements over the last few years, but as the iPad 2's enduring popularity attests, these elegant refinements carry only so much weight.

Will iPads hold their ground against ultra-thin 2-in-1s such as the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi?
Will iPads hold their ground against ultra-thin 2-in-1s such as the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi?

Based on rumors, new iPads should debut before the end of the year. They'll surely be thinner, faster, and lighter than previous-gen devices, and will probably come equipped with the Touch ID that debuted in the iPhone 5s. The latest iPads will derive more benefit from iOS 8 than older models will, simply because the newest hardware will be more closely tuned to Apple's new OS. iOS 8 will also help the new iPads work more seamlessly with other Apple products. All of these moves would be welcome, but it's hard to know if iOS 8's most exciting features will be as transformative for iPads as they are for iPhones. It's easy to imagine someone using Apple Pay on an iPhone, for example -- but on a new iPad Air? That seems sort of awkward.

Some evidence suggests Apple will introduce split-screen multitasking in at least some upcoming iPad models. This feature would be most useful on full-sized iPads, so it doesn't necessarily help Apple address iPhone 6 cannibalization of the iPad Mini -- but, as mentioned, Tim Cook and other execs are probably fine with lighter Mini sales, as long as overall iPad numbers grow. Yes, Windows tablets already offer split-screen multitasking, but given the app disparity between iOS and Windows, the feature might be more popular on iPad. After all, how many people frequently use any of Windows 8.1's Modern apps, let alone so many that multitasking is a constant concern? Apple's success hasn't always been about being first; it's been about introducing features at the right time and in the right way.

If rumors are any indication, the "right way" might involve announcing the feature alongside a 12.9-inch "iPad Pro," which Apple allegedly plans to launch early next year. But even if that device doesn't appear, Apple has significantly opened iOS to developers and introduced a variety of tools and resources, including Swift, a new programming language. As a result, the next generation of apps could be even more compelling than those already on the market. With split-screen multitasking thrown in, that appeal should only be stronger.

Even so, Apple can't sustain momentum forever by simply appropriating competitors' ideas and implementing them better. There's a fine line between being patient and methodical, and being reactionary.

In terms of innovation, Apple's filed a staggering array of iPad-related patent applications. Some raise interesting possibilities, such as rear sensors that could let iPad users compose emails or play games without blocking the screen. Others are a bit more off the wall, such as a recent invention that could treat files like 3D objects; it would let users assign files various physics-based attributes, such as a heavier "weight" that makes larger files drag more slowly across a touchscreen. Others still refer to proximity- and gesture-based navigation that could let users control the iPad without physically touching the screen.

Apple also holds numerous patents for 2-in-1 designs. Cook and his colleagues have slammed hybrid devices as neither fish nor fowl, but the company has been known to reverse course in the past; Jobs criticized both small tablets and large phones, for example, and Apple now makes both. If an iPad Pro with a notebook-sized screen is truly in the offing, some sort of hybrid option could certainly make sense.

Whether any of these patents turn into real products remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Apple's new iPhones were designed to be the kind of big leap that makes upgrades hard to resist, and it's time for iPads to get the same treatment.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 11:38:48 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
@techocrati,

Maybe. If they release the alleged 12.9-inch iPad, they'll have to know a bunch of people will want to use it with a keyboard. Will Apple leave all that business to third parties, as it does now? Could Apple's mind change now that Microsoft, with its new Continuum feature for Windows 10, might have finally found a non-awkward way to do 2-in-1s? Apple's got a bunch of patents for 2-in-1 designs, many of which pre-date the Surface by quite some time. They've been thinking about it, but who knows when or if they'll act.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2014 | 5:19:17 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
Yes, when i go to conferences I increasingly see people with tablets but I much prefer typing on my heavier MacBook. And I actually prefer my Kindle for tablet-like tasks like reading or looking up a website. Despite owning an iPad and a Kindle, I use my Kindle Fire a lot more than the iPad, even though i have a keyboard for the iPad.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 3:59:47 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
@Chris,

I've seen smartphone covers that are supposed to limit the angle of view such that it's fine for the user but harder to see for onlookers. I haven't tried one, though. Not sure how satisfying this would be in practice for someone concerned about this. Anyone tried it?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 3:27:19 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
I mentioned to a friend about getting the large screen iPhone, and she said "no, then everyone can see my business." Bigger not always better. Her triple pack is PC-iPhone-Kindle, with the Kindle just for reading.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 2:57:27 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
@Pedro the heat is on in the tablet market which some time ago was seen in the laptop market. I think phablet is something to watch about as well. I believe that having a smart phone with a bit bigger screen will serve all purposes till the time we have some thing extra ordinary piece of equipment getting out attention.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 2:54:04 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
@Chris you might be right but I have people for whom the price is just perfect. I believe it is basically the nature of work they are intended to do. Many a time a much expensive thing cannot do which some thing of few bucks can deliver.
JosephM649
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JosephM649,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2014 | 3:38:05 PM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
Apple has already been eclipsed by another company!  It's called Samsung and Android.  They've had the "new" iPhone features for several years, and as the Samsung commercial points out, the Galaxy Note 2 beats out an iPhone Plus because it includes a sylus! It's time Apple looked for another market - maybe buggy whips!
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
9/19/2014 | 9:47:06 AM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
Me too.  For work, I don't think a tablet can replace a laptop.  I'm hoping someday there will be a really light laptop.  Even better than the macbook air.  My laptop is really heavy, I try not to take it with me only if it's absolutely necessary.
hhendrickson274
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hhendrickson274,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/18/2014 | 2:39:21 PM
Possible alternative
One could make an argument that Apple is working on new MacBook Air with a 12" touch screen if you look at some of the rumours out of the supply chain regarding a potental 12" touch-screen.  That would make sense as it's in the middle of the current Air line-up and with the slow merger of the iOS and OS X platforms, I can see them doing some work to come up with a touch-enabled OS X as a dot release of 10.10 or 10.11.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/18/2014 | 11:27:57 AM
Re: iPads caught in a trap
I'm not even sure about the detachable keyboard, @PedroGonzales, though I haven't used Surface and am open minded. My world depends on that workhorse laptop, so I want zero compromise on the laptop experience, esp the keyboard. TDB
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