Apple's New 9.7-inch iPad Pro Should Breathe New Life Into the Product Line

At Apple's March 21st Event, Apple's SVP Phil Schiller introduced the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It includes an innovative "True Tone Display," four speakers with better volume, the smart keyboard, a great 12 MP camera and support for the Apple Pencil. Apple is methodically altering the user proposition of the iPad away from the legacy iPad as we knew it into a solid productivity tool.

This product image sends the new message. Image credit: Apple

Apple's iPad was an outrageously cool device when it first came out in 2010. There was nothing else like it, and a great many people sought to own one. However, after the initial wave of purchases and later upgrades in 2011-13, several things became clear.

  • The iPad was functioning as a larger iPhone and iOS was holding it back.
  • Many customers found that an iPhone in the Plus-size family, phablets, did all they needed.
  • The technology of the iPad wasn't changing fast enough to warrant a new iPad every year. Not even every two years. The speakers remained terrible.
  • Because of all the above, it remained necessary, for many tasks, not all, to have a MacBook to support certain serious work.

Some of these issues led to cannibalization. The new 2015 Retina MacBook has sold very well, and, especially with virtualization software and Windows 10, presented an opportunity for a beautiful, portable, dual use notebook.

And so, with a general decline in iPad sales since 2013, Apple set about the task of rethinking the iPad. What new features would it need to have? They would need to be in concert with the heritage and essence of the iPad, that would bring it back to life, get people upgrading, and most importantly, using it routinely for mission critical tasks.

It's been an incremental process. The iPad Air 2 seems to be the last of the old kind of thinking: a 9.7-inch tablet that's thin and light, and used for lightweight activities like browsing, shopping, and email. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro signals a new approach, namely, what can a person who wants to live with a tablet do that cannot realistically be done with an iPhone? That's why the word "Pro" must be in the name, not "Air."

Apple has been thinking. How should the iPad product line diverge from the iPhone? How should iOS morph to support these two kinds of products? What changes are necessary to lure users who are tired of their five year old PC? Or a Microsoft Surface device?

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro with its smart keyboard,Apple pencil, better speakers, "True Tone Display" that matches the ambient color temperature, fast A9X graphics rated at 0.5 teraflop, smart keyboard, USB camera adapter with wired Ethernet support and supporting features in iOS 9 all suggest that Apple is confident that the iPad of the future is arriving. Apple is figuring out what makes the iPad family compelling and fundamentally how it should evolve away from simply being a large iPhone.

I expect iPad sales in 2016 to reflect well on that newfound thinking and start a new, upward trend in sales.