Apple’s iPad Marketing Beats a Dead Horse and Confuses Customers

What's a Computer?

Apple makes a big fuss about the iPad being the future, but the facts don’t bear that out. Yet. Apple Marketing is beating a dead horse for the sake of a cute gotcha.

The Particle Debris article of the week is from John Dvorak at PC Magazine.

Now I wouldn’t normally address an article like that except for the fact that there are some larger issues at stake here.


It all started when Apple published a seemingly innocent commercial in mid-November. Our Bryan Chaffin wrote about that ad and included a link to it. “Apple iPad Commercial Asks, ‘What’s a Computer?’” Reader reaction was mixed and strong. Here’s that Apple ad again.

Ostensibly, the kid in the ad is so happy with the iPad Pro, so adept with it, that she’s completely lost track of of the terribly old-fashioned concept of a standard “computer,” be it a laptop or a desktop. The marketing takeaway is that the iPad Pro is all the device one will ever need.

If you’re a kid.

Author Dvorak drills down to another one of the conceits of the ad.

The girl is about 10 years old. If she does not know what a computer is by the age of 10, then our school systems are worse than I thought. Maybe she’s just being rude or mean to her mom.

But then making a marketing point with actor rudeness is all the rage.

Some Facts

More important, however, are some fundamental facts.

  1. iPad sales had been declining for years. Apple has to do something about that. And the company has indeed taken action. See: “Apple Stems Decline in iPad Sales Thanks to New iPad Pros.
  2. Schools generally report that iPads can’t always do the heavy lifting. A real laptop is important not only in high school but also in college. See: “Apple is Doing Terribly in Education. Doing Well. Which?
  3. Apple sells 20+ million Macs per year. That’s a US$20+ billion business that Apple isn’t going to throw away.

The literature about how iPads have failed pedagogical and financial needs of schools and how Google is competing effectively against Apple is impressive. Listen to an experienced educator explain it.

Marketing Isn’t Reality

Given the market realities above, Apple would naturally like to emphasize the value of the iPad Pro. That’s fine. But the problem with this ad is that, amidst the snark, the iPad Pro is so capable  that it can totally replace the traditional computer. We wonder. Has Apple lost confidence in the Mac?

That’s the confusing part.

In fact, the ad also appears to be a direct response to a prior comment by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who, upon spotting some journalists with iPads, suggested they “get a real computer.” His own angle here is that a Surface Pro with Windows is a fully capable computer in the traditional sense. You can take it to college and learn Java, write apps and even learn UNIX with the Ubuntu shell.

Apple’s response? No, you don’t need no stinkin’ computer. See? This iPad Pro is all one needs. And by the way, that iPad Pro needs, ::cough::, a physical keyboard to do its job well. I wonder who championed that tablet notion before Apple?

Here’s reality. Apple makes a broad range of computing devices to meet the needs of a broad range of customer needs. Macs play a modest but important role. They aren’t going away anytime soon, as evidence by Apple’s commitment to the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro. Even the MacBook Pro is being rethought for the better.

The Wrong Message

The above ad sends the wrong message. This one leads people, even an experienced tech journalist, to draw the wrong conclusion (the Mac is dead) and gin up a juicy, misleading article. The ad also reveals that Apple is thin-skinned about the future of the iPad and willing to denigrate traditional OSes like Windows (and, by implication, macOS) for the sake of some marketing glitz.

The iPad/iOS is great for many users who are adults as well. Tell us about it. Mac/macOS is a powerful system for many kinds of customers. Tell us about that too.

Instead, Apple took the easy way out when, in fact, there is much work to do.

Note: This week’s Particle Debris is one page.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed on page two by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

15 thoughts on “Apple’s iPad Marketing Beats a Dead Horse and Confuses Customers

  • My twins are 5 years old. They have been using iPads since they were 2. They know what a computer is. They also know they can see YouTube video on the TV, but they’re not sure how it gets there, and they know how to take and view photos on mobiles, both iOS and Android.
    If I tried to explain this article to them, I think their first question would be “what’s a Dvorak?”

  • This is a tired old topic. What is a computer, indeed?

    The modern era allows us to use appropriate tech for appropriate tasks.

    Stop worrying about nonsense like this. They’re all important.

  • As some of you know, I have used most computers built since the 1960s. I have always had a desktop workstation with a large screen. Lately I have noticed a change in how I work. Although I have a laptop, MacBook Air, I now take my iPad instead when I leave my desk.
    Why? Several reasons: the iPad is more portable, more powerful [iPad pro 9.7] than most laptops, with nice screen. Of course, the Apple addon keyboard sucks to type on and the addition of an animoji key was kind of juvenile in light of the need for a Siri key. But the point is – the iPad does everything well that is required for portable computing / reading – a daily driver – a workday computer. Not a scientific or developers’ machine, but we have those. With a better keyboard, the iPad could be the mainstream consumer computer. This could be a good path for Apple.

  • I’ve only seen this ad once (through the link) and I saw a device that is used for entertainment and communicating. Not even an instance where the child uses the calculator. To give Apple Marketing the benefit of the doubt, they may have wanted to portray the adult as not hip i.e., “This is an iPad, not a computer, duh.” Or implying it’s so simple a child can operate it, in Steve’s analogy: a mini bike, not even a car or a truck. It’s fun, hip, unserious, not like grownup stuff.

    Still, there is a current tendency for Apple to tell the consumer what is best for them. This may be a case of “run it up the flagpole and see who salutes” or foreshadowing of intentions. I’m certain that the fully developed, announced iMac Pro was/is the replacement for the Mac Pro. If no one had complained, there would be no Mac Pro in development (Apple admitted that they had nothing in development), it remains to be seen what becomes of the MacMini. No one questioned the lack of updates to the iPod Nano and Shuffle (no new colors or capacities) and their fates were sealed. The iPod Touch is next – too many second hand iPhones in circulation.

    A popular business motto is we’re Customer Driven. I interpret that two ways: Your business is driven by the desire to please your customer or your customers are driving you to change. Apple seems to be straddling the fence on these two interpretations.

  • Agree with this article 1000%. As a power user all of my career, it’s an insult to insinuate I (or anyone else) doesn’t need a computer.

    Since Tim Cook admitted it’s all he uses a couple of years ago, that tells us all we need to know right there…he’s obviously leaving the “heavy lifting” to others in his company!

    An I’ll also bet the Board of Directors has been challenging his strategy for iPad amid the continual slide in unit sales.

  • Heres the thing: those kids aren’t going to be kids forever, their needs will be more complex at some point as well. Point B: I happen to agree that screens are not appropriate for kids that age (I could site example after example from my wife’s teaching experience over the duration of the time iPads have been a thing, but Google will do just as well. I can only reinforce that information’s truth based on my own experience across states, countries, and demographics over a very long period of time with thousands of students from primary to college). Lastly: I am pretty convinced at this point that Apple has put too young millennials in too mature roles and a lot of what we are seeing is the result of youth’s serious inability to understand deeply what truly is above them. I don’t think Tim Cook has the cajones to call them out and course correct. Just my opinion. Firing (sorry, ‘retiring’) all of their previously senior staff was a big, big mistake.

  • No, you don’t need no stinkin’ computer. See? This iPad Pro is all one needs.

    How do you develop full iOS apps on the iPad Pro? (crickets chirping)

    Until Xcode is available for iOS, or (gasp) for Windows, the Mac isn’t going anywhere.

  • I would take anything that John Dvorak states about Apple with a huge grain of salt as he is notoriously anti Apple throughout his entire writing career. You know this as well as anyone John! Please give me someone else to base your rant piece on.

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