Concept image credit: Martin Hajek
Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro is almost a certainty given what we now know. For example, see the previous: "12.9-Inch iPad Pro Rumors Cross into Definitely Happening Territory" by my colleague Bryan Chaffin. However, it's important to put the product into perspective. Being a pro-level product, it won't be for everyone, and that suggests merely incremental sales over what Apple is doing now. That's not a bad thing.
Apple sold 12.6 million iPads last quarter. The company has sold more in past quarters. (See chart below.) One cannot reasonably deny that iPad sales are in a slump, although the iPad sales do tend to mirror Apple's total revenue. For example, in the Christmas gift giving quarter (Q1) when Apple sales zoom, iPad sales also surge.
Back on April 27, 2015, during Apple's earnings report with analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook, publicly responded to a question about what it would take to re-accelerate iPad sales. With a bit of resignation, he said "It is what it is."
Behind the Scenes
There is, I believe, a bit of soul searching at Apple. It could very well be that the enthusiastic predictions, based on early adoption, of the iPad making the PC utterly obsolete were a case of starry-eyed overreaching.
The sales slowdown happened because, in my opinion, 1) the use cases didn't require constant upgrades and 2) the technical nature of the iPad's iOS didn't evolve independently of the iPhone. In terms of hardware, we got a Retina display in the iPad 3. The networking got faster with the iPad Air 2 adding 802.11ac. The iPad mini 3 added Touch ID and Apple Pay. But the hardware changes weren't enough to make upgrading a must. Also, in the grand scheme of things, the advances made in iOS, while great, didn't empower and differentiate the iPad's UI from the iPhone.
As a result many customers found that they could do all that they needed to do with their iPhones, especially the iPhone 6 Plus. Moreover, because Apple is doing such a stellar job with the MacBook series, especially the Air, there is some cannibalization back to the Mac because OS X is such a formidable OS. Apple doesn't mind that, according to Mr. Cook, nor should it.
What this means is there is probably some thought at Apple about how an iPad should be fundamentally different than an iPhone if it's to earn its place and grow in sales. That leads, naturally, to thinking about how the UI should lend itself to doing things not practical on an iPhone 6 Plus.
Concept: 7.9, 9.7 and 12.9-inch iPads. Image credit: Martin Hajek
When I think about what's to be done differently on an iPad, I think of 1) a more capable UI that allows one to do more things at once and involve more than one app at a time in the content management process, an 2) markets where a larger screen is a must.
Those markets where a roughly 13-inch display could come in very handy are, to name a few:
- Art and Computer Aided Design (CAD)
- Point of Sales (POS) terminals and adverting
- Sales kiosks and information displays in hotels, office buildings
- Military (maps, planning boards)
- Aviation (larger navigational displays)
- Sports (realtime analysis)
- Publishing (larger is better for textbooks, magazines and newspapers)
- Scientific visualization
- Business analysis, charting and projector-free presentations
- Real Estate (presetations to customers on the road)
- Use with the visually impaired
Given all the places where iPads are used now to great effect, I see the above markets as incremental. Apple might sell an additional 2 million iPad Pros per quarter.
The good news, however, is that these are precisely the markets that place additional stress on the iPad technology. Exploring pro markets like these will take Apple out of its comfort zone. No longer will the technology be limited to pleasing the easily-satisfied consumer. Mission critical work requires mission ready equipment, not just an iPhone with a larger display.
Exploring and Attacking on All Fronts
Apple's business partnership with IBM, merging the Apple hardware with IBM's business analytics; the new features of iOS 9 (Slideover and Split View); and the larger display of the iPad Pro seem to be all part of a program to flesh out how the iPad should evolve. Given that, however, I wouldn't expect that Apple will put all its eggs in this one basket. That could well be the interpretation of the term "cautious" that Mr. Chaffin refers to in his article linked above.
If the iPad Pro were to take off, Apple is on to something fundamental in the tablet market. If iPad Pro sales remain merely incremental, then Apple's search for how the iPad should properly evolve could well take them on to new adventures.
The iPad story is not over. It's just starting to be written.