Apple's Drop in iPad Market Share is a Natural Part of Tablet Evolution

Apple's iPad market share is slowly being diluted. And yet customers love their iPads and do amazing things with them. Those iPads also greatly dominate Web traffic. It's a great paradox that has many puzzled. I think I have at least part of the answer.


When designing a product, a company can throw together a suite of features and hope that the sum creates something attractive and useful. But another, higher level of design takes into account what the user may want to accomplish. Functionality is then geared toward specific kinds of users.

For example, Apple didn't design its iPad tablet in order to preserve what's best about OS X and Macs. Instead, the designers looked at what customers really needed to do with a personal computing device as well as what they hated about PCs (and maybe even Macs).

For example, tablet customers don't want to worry a lot about viruses and security. They don't want to lose work. They want useful OS updates to be no-brainers. They want to browse, get email, shop (with confidence) and do social things, but they don't want to be bogged down with file management, backups and licence management. Most of all, they want to remain productive, but on the tablet's terms.

Of course, we know all this, but I want to put it into the context of what CEO Tim Cook said in Apple's 2014 Q2 earnings report. "Apple’s Tim Cook Explains His Enthusiasm for iPad." Responding to UBS analyst Steve Milanovich, Mr. Cook said:

The iPad also has four times the Web traffic as all Android tablets combined.

Apple's Hints in Plain Sight

For a long time, how Apple's iPad could have such a disproportionate share of Internet traffic has been a mystery, but now I think the context has become clear, especially in light of Apple's TV ads, "What Will Your Verse be?," and "Powerful."

The theme of these ads is that users are doing something valuable and interesting with their iPads and iPhones. In order for that to happen, these products have to have certain characteristics.

  • They must be trustworthy and secure internally.
  • Internet access and configuration must be easy and secure.
  • The available apps must be safe and professional.
  • The apps must have been built by a development system that promotes, in the apps created, a sense of inspiration and a professional technical basis.

By professional technical basis I mean that the APIs, the developer tools, and the curation process and rules all lead to a product that can be depended on to produce valuable or useful results. While success isn't guaranteed, depending on the skill of a developer, no one (as a simple example) wants a calculator that gives wrong answers in physics class or makes one miss a meeting because it didn't understand time.

Next: Some Customers Worth Pursuing

Part 2 - Some Customers Worth Pursuing


And so when we look at the Web usage statistics, it's not a great leap to see that the iPad customers are engaged, collaborative, experimental, confident, and trust that their iPads can be a reliable tool to get things done that they value. There is little fear that exploration and collaboration and experimentation will lead to a disastrous security betrayal. This is especially important in education and is likely why Apple has 95 percent of that market.

Back to the design process. So if Apple is successfully designing the iPad for creative, productive users in the enterprise and education, why would the company decide to change the design to appeal to anyone else in the marketplace? Customers who buy a tablet and don't use it in the way an iPad was ultimately designed to be used aren't worth pursuing by Apple.

I'm not saying that other companies don't try to build useful, secure tablets. I'm saying Apple makes highly useful tablets better than any other company. That has a market share impact.

Market Share Effects

Tim Cook said that when he looked at market share statistics for all tablets, he apparently found some oddball products [my interpretation]: there are a lot of things I personally wouldn't put in the same category as the iPad, that are weighing the share down. It's certainly a market we wouldn't play in, and it's the type of product you'd never see [with] an Apple brand."

In the end, if a competitor to Apple wants the widest possible adoption and market share, it has to appeal to a broad class of users. These users buy tablets, but the conclusion from the Web traffic statistics is that not much is being done with them. Yet, Apple gets lumped in with these other tablets, making the market share numbers look worse than they are.

However, if Apple's vision, as shown in the TV ads we've seen, is to cater to a different kind of user, then its market share is going to suffer more and more as the tablet becomes more of a mass market phenomenon.

In other words, is Apple failing to provide excellence to its own customers? It is not. Or is the mass exodus away from the PC and towards a cheap tablet simply causing a natural dilution effect?

It's something to ponder.