We’re hearing loud and clear from various places: the iPad is dead. As a fan of the iPad from day one, my immediate reaction is to say this isn’t true. I still use my iPad every day of my life.
But when you look at the actual sales figures for iPads things don’t look good. Is this really a sign that the iPad will soon be only a memory like the Palm Pilot? I think we shouldn’t be too hasty to declare the iPad dead just yet.
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Remember the Netbook?
About 10 years ago, long before the first iPad was released, the world was introduced to a new portable product category: the netbook. I had a netbook when I was an undergraduate and it was a perfect mix of portability and cost.
The netbook came about because even the cheapest components were now “good enough”. That is to say, good enough for daily stuff like email and word processing. For a while, the netbook ruled the world in terms of sales, but there was a problem.
Since these computers were already “good enough” people had no compelling reason to buy new ones after a year or two. There was no drive for better performance since the whole point of a netbook is that it was fast enough.
Enter the iPad
Today the netbook is dead and gone. We still have 10″ laptops, but we call them ultrabooks and they are definitely not cheap nor only “good enough”. Funnily enough, it was the iPad that finally killed off the netbook
Apple’s compact and powerful tablet did all the netbook could, but made it more user-friendly, elegant and convenient. When sales of netbooks started flagging there were also skeptical voices but ultimately the death sentence proved to be true. The big question is whether the iPad is now in the position that the netbook was a decade ago.
Like the netbook, can we say the iPad is dead?
Filling the Gap
My answer to that would be “no”. The iPad replaced the netbook because it did the same job, but better. It’s only failing was that the prices were not comparable. Other Android tablets would take care of the “low cost” bit after the iPad had established the tablet market.
Speaking of which, all tablet sales are down. So we shouldn’t take falling iPad sales as a sign that it is in trouble all by itself. It’s the entire product category that is flagging.
The big question here is why? Are people no longer using their tablets? Don’t they want them?
Depending on how you look at it, tablets are so popular that just about everyone has one with them. They are just tiny tablets that we call smartphones.
It’s easy to forget that smartphones and tablets are the same devices with only the form factor size really varying. Sure you can’t really make phone calls from a tablet (although I still see it), but then smartphone owners hardly make phone calls anyway.
The fact is that since large-screen phones and “phablets” came to market, a lot of people who would have bought a tablet didn’t. In other words, smartphones are cannibalizing tablet sales.
“Good Enough” Lives On
The other problem I see is that iPads continue the “good enough” legacy of netbooks. If you have an iPad 1 or 2 you have a tablet that’s become pretty unusable. If you have an Air, Air 2 or Pro there is no need at all to upgrade.
So iPad sales may only be “falling” if you think the upgrade cycle is 1-2 years as with smartphones. It may simply be that iPads have reached market saturation and that they are settling into their “real” upgrade cycle.
After all, when the netbook was killed there was a new device people wanted more that did the same job. There is nothing aiming to replace the iPad’s niche entirely. So the need they fulfill is still there and people will still want new tablets to replace the old ones.
I’m Free, Free-falling
The assumption that a drop in sales is a death knell only makes sense if you think that the drop will continue indefinitely. Although Apple is selling fewer iPads, they are still selling them and making a massive profit.
As long as there is some sustainable level of demand for iPads the company will keep making and selling them. So, for now, I don’t think there’s much chance of iPads disappearing from shelves in the next few years.
Apple seems to be planning for the drop in sales. They’ve brought out a new 2017 iPad that costs less and remixes tried and tested components from previous iOS devices. In other words, it’s perfect for upgraders and new buyers alike.
The Reaper Comes for Everyone
Just because the iPad may not be dead right now, doesn’t mean it will live on forever. There are killer technologies coming that are going to threaten the need that both smartphones and tablets currently fulfill.
The next big revolution in mobile computing is going to be wearable computers. Forget failed experiments like the Google Glass, in the next decade, we’ll start seeing properly integrated gadgets go on sale.
Direct retinal projection or augmented reality lenses are going to make the idea of a separate device that you hold in your hands a little silly. You know, like in Back to the Future II.
Until then, our iPads will become thinner, lighter and much more powerful. We won’t again see the sorts of leaps high demand drove in the first few generations of the device.
The iPad is Dead. Long Live the iPad
I love my iPad Pro, but I don’t think I’ll feel the need to replace it unless it stops working or Apple does exciting new things with it. I have no doubt that on four years or so, there will be a new iPad to replace this one and then again four years after that. Then we can have this “the iPad is Dead” conversation again.
In case the iPad is dead to you in particular though, why not check out what our tech blogging friends say are their favorite gadgets.
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