iPad’s sales on the rise thanks to cheaper prices

Ap­ple’s tablet saw sales growth last quar­ter for the first time in three years, and we have the £339 iPad to thank, ar­gues Dan Moren

iPad&iPhone user - - OPINION -

If you, like me, were won­der­ing when the iPad’s sales free fall would come to an end, we may now have an an­swer. Ear­lier this week, Ap­ple re­leased its lat­est fi­nan­cial re­sults, in­clud­ing the first quar­ter of sales growth for the com­pany’s tablet in more than three years.

Ar­rest­ing the tablet’s de­cline, though, didn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean block­buster sales. Ap­ple moved 10.7 mil­lion iPads in the most re­cent quar­ter, but that’s still

well be­low the com­pany’s quar­terly record sales of 18.6 mil­lion back in 2014.

That said, an up­swing is an up­swing. Whether it con­tin­ues is any­body’s guess, but there are a num­ber of po­ten­tial fac­tors that might have the iPad poised for a re­turn to form.

Just ‘the iPad’

Though Ap­ple doesn’t break out its sales by model lines, the gen­eral con­sen­sus seems to be that the sales in the most re­cent quar­ter were driven by the com­pany’s fifth-gen­er­a­tion iPad, re­leased back in March. The £339 model is the cheap­est full-size iPad that Ap­ple has ever re­leased, and while it may not match up to the Pro line, it’s a lot of per­for­mance for the price tag.

And the truth of the mat­ter may be that peo­ple aren’t buy­ing iPads for per­for­mance. Though plenty of peo­ple have ar­gued that you can get most, if not all, of your work done on an iPad, I’d wa­ger that most con­sumers aren’t do­ing their work on the iPad, for what­ever rea­son. But they are us­ing their iPad for plenty of com­mon daily tasks: email, web brows­ing, so­cial me­dia, video play­ing, and the like. The fifth­gen­er­a­tion iPad’s A9 pro­ces­sor is plenty ca­pa­ble for all those tasks with per­for­mance to spare.

Many of the ad­di­tional fea­tures, then – like the im­proved dis­play of the Pro mod­els, com­pat­i­bil­ity with the Ap­ple Pen­cil, and the ad­di­tion of a Smart Con­nec­tor – are likely lost on the av­er­age user. More­over, the fifth-gen­er­a­tion iPad is po­ten­tially an at­trac­tive de­vice for use in both ed­u­ca­tion en­vi­ron­ments, where it

boasts an even lower price tag (just above £300), and in some en­ter­prise sit­u­a­tions where those ad­di­tional fea­tures are un­needed. Not to men­tion as point-of­sale ter­mi­nals, in­for­ma­tion kiosks, and other less de­mand­ing use cases.

In other words, the fifth-gen­er­a­tion iPad has com­modi­tized the tablet, while still pro­vid­ing the broad sup­port and ecosys­tem ac­cess that you’re not go­ing to get from cheap An­droid-based com­peti­tors.

Go Pro

Mean­while, the iPad Pro aims to be liv­ing up to its name. Ef­fects of the new iPad Pro’s sales may not have fully felt in the most re­cent quar­ter, which ended 1 July – just a cou­ple weeks af­ter the new Pros started ship­ping. But I’d ar­gue that the new 10.5in iPad Pro is po­si­tioned to ap­peal both to those new cus­tomers look­ing for the most pow­er­ful tablet around, as well as con­sumers look­ing to up­grade from older mod­els. (I can speak to the lat­ter es­pe­cially, as I traded in my iPad Air 2 for a 10.5in iPad Pro, with no re­grets.)

The in­crease of the screen size, though it didn’t sat­isfy all who had hoped for an even higher-res­o­lu­tion dis­play, is a ma­jor fac­tor. Set­ting aside the 12.9in Pro, which presents an en­tirely dif­fer­ent set of trade-offs, there’s been no change in the size of the ‘stan­dard’

iPad’s dis­play since its launch back in 2010. Just as the iPhone 6 se­ries spurred on new sales and up­grade pur­chases thanks to its larger screen size, the iPad 10.5in of­fers a sim­i­lar ap­peal – even more so given how sim­i­lar the form fac­tor is in size and weight to its pre­de­ces­sors.

A big­ger screen con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor fea­ture when it comes to touch-based de­vices, not only be­cause it means more view­able area but also be­cause it means a larger con­trol sur­face. Even every­day func­tions like typ­ing on the on-screen key­board can be made more pleas­ant and less frus­trat­ing with a mod­est in­crease in screen size. That’s a pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment for up­grad­ing, even be­fore adding in harder-todemon­strate fea­tures like Pro­Mo­tion.


Speak­ing of dif­fer­ent screen sizes, you might have no­ticed one par­tic­u­lar Ap­ple prod­uct get­ting none of the love: the iPad mini. Though Ap­ple is still sell­ing the iPad mini 4, it’s be­come the tablet only for those that prize small size above every­thing else: it’s both more ex­pen­sive than the fifth-gen­er­a­tion iPad and less pow­er­ful. Spec-wise, it’s about the same as the iPod touch, al­beit with an op­tion for cel­lu­lar data.

It may be that Ap­ple is bid­ing its time on the iPad mini, leav­ing it to sit around like the iPod touch or the Mac mini, to be up­dated spo­rad­i­cally. At the mo­ment, both use the A8 pro­ces­sor that also runs the Ap­ple TV and the up­com­ing HomePod, so it’s clear Ap­ple can pro­duce those chips at scale and prob­a­bly for a good price. But the iPad mini has never been a win­ner

on mar­gins for Ap­ple, and now that the com­pany has got­ten the 9.7in iPad down to a bet­ter price, it makes the mini a much harder sell.

Trou­ble with the curve

Of course, it may be pre­ma­ture to de­clare an iPad re­bound in full ef­fect. As we’ve ob­served over the last sev­eral years, iPad own­ers don’t swap their de­vices out nearly as of­ten as iPhone users, many of whom up­grade on a one- or two-year cy­cle. Like Macs, iPads re­main us­able longer, and the pace of in­no­va­tion doesn’t seem as rapid as with smart­phones.

So don’t ex­pect the iPad mar­ket to look like the iPhone mar­ket, to hit those heights or to grow as con­sis­tently. None of that means the iPad isn’t a suc­cess, just that it has a dif­fer­ent curve than its smaller sib­ling. As the Mac has shown, you can sur­vive a long time with­out that kind of ru­n­away growth – and that’s hardly a model to sneeze at.

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