Can you name an Apple product that has had greater success and failure than the iPad? Comparatively speaking, the iPad outsold the iPhone and the iPad in its first few years. It was Apple’s most successful new product and the company scored a few hundred million sales without blinking an eye. iPad sales topped the Mac in revenue, profits, and unit sales.
What happened? The bottom fell out. iPad sales dropped each quarter, year over year, for a few years. Even now, with sales somewhat stabilized, the iPad no longer outsells the Mac. What’s going on?
A number of issues come into play with the iPad’s past, present, and future. Some are Apple’s problems. Some are market problems. Some are product problems. All combine into a perfect storm that impacted Apple’s very popular iPad that redefined the entire tablet industry.
First on my list of the obvious is product life cycle. No one knows what the iPad’s life cycle is; after all, it’s a relatively new product. But it’s likely much closer to the life cycle of a Mac than an iPhone. That impacts upgrade purchases. Why bother to upgrade when new models do much the same as the old model.
Second on my list of nearly obvious is the big screen trend. iPhone competitors needed to differentiate their smartphones from Apples and one obvious way to do that was with a larger screen; and it took Apple years to catch up. Apple’s first larger screen iPhone, the iPhone 6 Plus, coincides with the iPad’s sales decline. People only need so many large screen devices.
Third on my list of problems is Apple’s relative inattention to the iPad line. Where’s the excitement of something new? The iPhone gets it every year with newer, thinner, lighter, faster, better everything. What did the iPad get? Almost nothing for years. The iPad still does what the iPad does. Touch ID came along. Improved screens. Faster graphics. But absolutely no buzz, no multi-user mode– and worse, Apple continued to sell very old iPads as if they were new.
iPad Pro makes it to my list because, frankly, that’s what the iPad should be; a device bristling with capability. Instead, what Apple has done is reduced the price. The new 9.7-inch iPad is faster, and could be dubbed iPad Air 3, but it’s most attractive feature is the price tag, starting at $329.
Apple promotes the iPad as a replacement for the PC. That means Windows PC, but until the latest model, new iPads were more expensive than cheaper Windows PCs with touchscreens, but do far less, therefore, not likely to attract many switchers from Microsoft’s brand, despite more than a million apps just for the iPad. Promotions aside, Apple just hasn’t paid as much attention to the iPad line as it has the iPhone, and seems afraid that sales from iPad might cannibalize sales from the Mac line. Steve Jobs didn’t seem to be afraid of cannibalization.
Finally, all those little storms combined to make a massive perfect storm which resulted in diminishing iPad sales.
What Apple needs to do is make the iPad relevant again; add features that users want (multiuser capability, as found on macOS, would be a start), give it a competitive camera and better speakers. In short, make the iPad desirable again and stop resting on laurels.