Why the fu­ture is bright for Ap­ple’s iPad

Ja­son Snell imag­ines the com­put­ing de­vice of the year 2025. It’s prob­a­bly closer to an iPad than a Mac

Macworld - - Contents -

With an­other quar­ter of fall­ing iPad sales, there’s a lot of talk these days about what’s up with the de­vice. While Ap­ple still sells more than twice as many iPads per quar­ter as it does Macs, the Mac busi­ness gen­er­ates more rev­enue and is more sta­ble than the iPad, which has shown year-over-year sales de­clines for 14 of Ap­ple’s lat­est 15 fi­nan­cial quar­ters.

De­spite a larger in­stalled base than the Mac, cus­tomer-sat­is­fac­tion scores that are “through the roof” (to use Tim Cook’s phrase), dom­i­nance in the

high-end tablet mar­ket, and in­creas­ing sales to first-time iPad buy­ers, its lack of sales mo­men­tum leads to a lot of scep­ti­cism about its fu­ture. We do, how­ever, feel that the iPad, or some­thing very much like it, will be a huge part of the fu­ture of how peo­ple use com­put­ing de­vices. Here are a few of the rea­sons why.

The cur­rent iPad mar­ket is messy

This is an old ar­gu­ment, so we won’t labour it: Peo­ple got re­ally ex­cited about the iPad in its early days, with the most over­heated pe­riod hap­pen­ing be­tween the 2012 and 2013 hol­i­day sea­sons. In that 15-month pe­riod, Ap­ple sold 97 mil­lion iPads, an av­er­age of 19.4 mil­lion per quar­ter. (Sales in the five most re­cent quar­ters av­er­aged only 11.8 mil­lion.)

All those de­vices are still out there in the mar­ket. Some may be bro­ken and oth­ers are gath­er­ing dust in a closet, but a lot of them are still in use. And they work just fine – the orig­i­nal iPad Air was still

be­ing sold as new un­til less than a year ago. As long as that huge mass of still-use­ful iPads be­gins to need a re­place­ment, it will be hard to tell what the iPad’s real mar­ket size is.

In the end, we think the iPad mar­ket will sta­bi­lize, the weird ef­fects of the iPad gold rush of 2012 to 2013 will wash out of the mar­ket, and we’ll see a solid prod­uct line that will be­gin to grow again. But right now we are still look­ing at the sales equiv­a­lent of the Baby Boom – a very large lump in the charts that dis­torts what oth­er­wise might be an or­derly, smooth buy­ing cy­cle.

The iPad is a bet­ter bet for the fu­ture

Look out to 2025 and imag­ine a fu­tur­is­tic com­put­ing de­vice made from Ap­ple that’s larger than a phone, fill­ing the ecosys­tem that cur­rently is filled by lap­tops and iPads (and maybe even desk­top Macs). This is a thin, light de­vice, with bat­tery life and sen­sors and other fea­tures that we can only dream about to­day.

Now draw a line to that de­vice from one of Ap­ple’s cur­rent de­vices: the iPad or the Mac. Which de­vice is more likely to morph into that 2025 com­put­ing de­vice in your mind? Ap­ple is ca­pa­ble of tak­ing either in that di­rec­tion, but if we had to pick one, we’d pick the iPad, not the Mac.

This is not be­cause we dis­like the Mac, nor is it be­cause we think the Mac has no fu­ture. We think the Mac will con­tinue to evolve and sur­vive and maybe even thrive for years to come. But when we imag­ine that fu­ture de­vice, we imag­ine one with a rich touch­screen in­ter­face that’s not bur­dened by the trap­pings of how com­puter in­ter­faces were

de­signed in the 1980s. For the Mac to get there, it would need to sac­ri­fice a lot of its in­nate Mac-ness and be­come some­thing very dif­fer­ent.

Ap­ple seems to see the Mac as a rock-solid plat­form for lap­top and desk­top com­put­ers that peo­ple de­pend on to do their jobs. The Mac is, in many ways, de­fined by the fact that it’s a key­board-and-track­pad-driven sys­tem with a win­dowed user in­ter­face. If you take that away and sim­plify the Mac, you might be able to get to some­thing a bit closer to the iPad, but you risk los­ing some of the key at­tributes that make the Mac what it is.

The iPad, on the other hand, seems not too far away from that 2025 de­vice al­ready. What’s re­quired is an evo­lu­tion of the very sim­ple touch in­ter­face pi­o­neered by the iPhone in or­der to pro­vide the tools that so­phis­ti­cated and de­mand­ing users need to get their jobs done. With the ad­di­tion of iCloud Drive and sup­port for other cloud ser­vices, Ap­ple ba­si­cally gave the iPad a brows­able file hi­er­ar­chy.

For the iPad to get there, how­ever, Ap­ple will need to up its game when it comes to grow­ing iOS. Af­ter all, 2025 is only eight years away; a new iPad fea­ture or two ev­ery other year be­tween now and then won’t get it done. iOS needs bet­ter pe­riph­eral sup­port, more so­phis­ti­cated win­dow­ing and mul­ti­task­ing, im­prove­ments to file han­dling, bet­ter sup­port for ap­pli­ca­tion and sys­tem au­to­ma­tion, and a whole lot more. But if Ap­ple puts the work in, the iPad could be that de­vice in 2025, and still clearly be rec­og­niz­able to a vis­i­tor from 2017 as an iPad.

In the mean­time, the Mac can evolve at its own pace, and still re­main the Mac.

Smart­phones are too small

By all rights, this en­tire ar­gu­ment should be moot: the smart­phone is the fu­ture of com­put­ing. We agree, the smart­phone is the sin­gle most im­por­tant com­put­ing de­vice in our life­times.

There’s just one prob­lem: smart­phones are de­signed to fit in our pock­ets, and we don’t think all the work we do in our lives can be ported to a screen that’s five- or six inches di­ag­o­nal.

Dif­fer­ent jobs have dif­fer­ent needs, but many of them will re­quire screens that are 10-, 13-, 17-, even 27- or 30 inches di­ag­o­nal. So if we be­lieve that the smart­phone is the fu­ture, but that some­times you need a screen that’s big­ger, what’s the prod­uct that fits that de­scrip­tion?

An ex­ter­nal touch­screen you can dock your smart­phone to? That might hap­pen, but it seems more likely that the fu­ture will in­volve mul­ti­ple

de­vices synced to cloud data, so you can move be­tween them with ease. (We’re al­ready get­ting there.) A pair of aug­mented-re­al­ity glasses that al­low you to oper­ate an enor­mous in­ter­face driven by your smart­phone? It’s pos­si­ble, but re­motely op­er­at­ing a vir­tual in­ter­face is not the same as touch­ing a phys­i­cal ob­ject.

So as­sum­ing that in 2025 peo­ple will want to do work on larger screens, the smart­phone will need a com­pan­ion de­vice that can pro­vide those larger screens for dif­fer­ent con­texts. The Mac might be the so­lu­tion here, mod­i­fied (in the vein of what Mi­crosoft’s do­ing with Win­dows) to pro­vide that sort of in­ter­face. But once again, the clearer so­lu­tion is al­ready with us: it’s the iPad. Not just in the cur­rent sizes that range from seven- to 13 inches, but ones a whole lot larger.

We’re not say­ing the iPad will cer­tainly be the de­vice peo­ple will be us­ing in 2025 to get their jobs done. But when we look at where Ap­ple is to­day and project into the fu­ture, it’s what seems the most likely to grow into that de­vice.

A smart­phone isn’t big enough for ev­ery­thing we need to do

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