After Initial Euphoria, Then Letdown, iPad is Poised for Glory

iPad Pro & pencil

The iPad launched with great enthusiasm in 2010, and just about everyone had to have one. It was boldly declared to be the harbinger of the Post-PC era. But then it faltered. Now, Apple is positioning the iPad to take up its long-intended role as the PC replacement. Here’s how Apple is going to do that.

iPad Pro

Apple executives don’t accept failure easily. And, for a time, it certainly did look like the iPad, after the new-car-smell wore off, that it was a product too far ahead of its time. It wasn’t ready to be the pace car of the Post-PC era. Sales have declined in recent years at an alarming rate. (To Apple, anyway.)

The analysis of the sales slowdown invariably led to the idea that the technology wasn’t changing fast enough and that the constraints of iOS, more and more, were holding the hardware back. As a result, millions of customers found that their iPad 2 or iPad 3 was “good enough” and there was no practical reason to rush out and replace their iPad every year.

One can only imagine the meetings at Apple, led by Tim Cook. I suspect, I know, tough questions were asked and orders given.

The iPad is faltering. Figure out why. Fix it.

In contrast, many pundits have been eager to see the technical situation as unsalvageable. They proposed that the iPad was a brilliant pipe-dream, but it just can’t compete with notebook computers with any OS, be it Chrome, Windows or OS X. To suggest that Tim Cook and Phil Schiller would sit back and shrug off the temporary failings saying, “Well, that’s life,” is laughable in the extreme.

This week’s article pick is a splendid analysis of the situation by Michael Cowling. “Apple is taking its first steps towards a more comprehensive post-PC world.” There are several notable concepts that are collected into focus.

1. The development of Swift Playgrounds. This is no doubt the byproduct of one of those tense Tim Cook “fix it” meetings. It’s not a toy. Rather Swift Playgrounds is likely the first in a series of ever more sophisticated tools to provide for code development on the iPad. This augments and elevates 3rd party coding apps like Pythonista.

2. The terrific advances in iPad’s CPU and graphics. Hardware improvements must not only lead to a better user experience, but they must lead to breakthroughs in Apple’s vision for the roadmap of the device. That seems to be happening.

Apple iPad performance over the years.
Apple SVP Phil Schiller shows the iPad performance gain over the years. GPU data similar.

3. The interoperability of devices. Apple’s development of interoperability amongst its various devices isn’t just a fanciful notion of better consumer experience. In reality, the idea is to allow us to do our work on whatever device suits us at the moment. That brings coherence to the evolution of the multiple platforms. As Mr. Cowling points out:

Ben Thompson, of Stratechery, called this concept Continuous Computing back in 2015 when he envisioned a world where we move seamlessly between devices to get our work done.

One of the stellar reminders of the current reality is the inclusion, by Cowling, of the seminal “truck” video by Steve Jobs. In that video Jobs lays out the analogy.

Cars : trucks :: iPads : PCs/Macs

It’s just that the transition to mostly cars and a few powerful trucks is taking longer than expected.

iPad Potential Yet to be FulFilled

It’s worth watching again. Right now, I see Apple’s emphasis on making the iPad fulfill its actual potential emerge in those three bullet points above. But first, we more or less had to struggle through the classic iPad “Hype Cycle” with its often mentioned “Trough of Disillusionment”. It’s a classic graph, so I won’t repeat it here.

The original iPad had just enough horsepower to achieve its goal as a convenient content consumption device. However, as technology has advanced, more and more constraints will be lifted until we get to an inflection point. Finally, we’ll hit that Plateau of Productivity in which the iPad can begin to grow again, not as a second-screen toy, but as our go-to device. In that case, like the former PC era, keeping up with the hardware and software advances will become essential.

That’s when the real Post-PC era will launch. And that’s when sales will takeoff again.

Next page: The Tech News Debris for the Week of July 18th. The Case for a Shatterproof iPhone.


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W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

John: You’ve got some great selections here this week. I’m wondering aloud whether or not the dearth of follow-on commentary is influenced by pull of the US political convention coverage. Perhaps your summary of these articles is sufficiently comprehensive that most readers simply had nothing more to add, apart from the irrepressible Geoduck. The two topics that I found most interesting were those of your lead, the promise of the iPad, and the issue of the impact of robots on our socio-economic transition, specifically that they will not destroy jobs. As usual, I’m pressed for time, but cannot resist adding… Read more »


I like the idea of the iPad being poised for glory. I like the idea of the robust hardware from the iPP coupled with a huge improvement to iOS making the pro a great content creation machine. However I just ran across something that makes me question your thesis. I am on the road. I have a bunch of pictures and want to make a book in Photos. Put it together. Send it off. It will be waiting in my mailbox when I get home. But, I just discovered that you can’t do that any more. You could in iOS8… Read more »