How Apple Could Have Increased iPad Sales, But Didn't

According to analyst projections, the growth in sales of Apple's iPad has come to a halt. Why might that be?

Philip Elmer DeWitt Writes:

"With growing competition and the rise of the phablet (mini-tablets that double as phones), nobody is expecting a repeat of Q2 2013, when sales grew 55% year over year. In fact, nearly half of the 34 Apple analysts we've heard from so far -- 21 Wall Street professionals and 13 amateurs -- expect the company to report next week that unit sales in fiscal Q2 2014 declined year over year."

Like many, I am very curious about this state of affairs. While I'm not fond of suggesting what Apple ought to do, from time to time, I like to explore scenarios. What could Apple have done differently and why?

1. Introduce a 12.9-inch iPad "Pro" earlier. We've heard plenty of rumors. There don't seem to be any showstoppers. The display is about 1.3 time larger diagonally, so has about 1.75 times the area as a 9.7-inch iPad. But then, there's correspondingly more room for a battery. Previously, I suggested that a 12.x-inch iPad would be good for many of Apple's markets. Why Apple didn't do this remains a mystery. Perhaps the estimation was that it would dilute the product line and not be a big seller.

2. Introduce a new iPad Air this spring. Apple might have tweaked the fabulous iPad Air with Touch ID, 802.11ac, and a better speaker arrangement. Currently, a few clever case makers have introduced "acoustic scoops," or "sound deflectors" to make up for the iPad's below average speaker configuration. That would have created some buzz, but obviously, Apple isn't ready quite yet for iPad Air 2. The lull frustrates writers who are eager to write about new, cool stuff.

Macally's clever case with acoustic deflector.

3. Obliterate Samsung in the Courts. Apple has been trying to punish Samsung for, allegedly, copying parts of iOS. Samsung is putting up a vigorous defense, and while the Apple's energetic protection of its patents has given pause to other potential copiers, sales of Samsung's (and Amazon's) tablets continue more or less unabated. Although not at the level Samsung has claimed. This is a long-term effort, and hunger for instant obliteration, like a video game, remains unfulfilled.

4. Make iOS More Friendly. Here are some questions to ponder. Has Apple done everything it might do to distance itself from Android on a tablet? Are the sandboxing and other security methods getting in the way of making the iPad more friendly and capable? I'm not in favor of making the iPad less secure, but many observers, including Jean-Louis Gassée, have suggested that perhaps it's time for Apple move iOS on to the next stage of technical development.

Of course, millions of people love the iPad and buy them by the tens of millions each quarter, but the perception is that the competition has caught up in the fundamentals. iOS 7 was a flattening and look-and-feel makeover. Are we on the precipice of the next phase in the evolution of the iPad, and Apple isn't quite ready? That kind of work takes time. WWDC will tell us more.

Jumping Through Hoops

Apple is like a black box. We know the inputs and the outputs, but it's hard to figure out the mechanism inside. And so it's hard to critique or quantify the apparent course Apple is taking or suggest obvious errors. There are some things Apple could have done to spur iPad sales in the short term, but they're probably not the long-term solution. Plus, the march of time, good old-fashioned R&D, ROI analysis, technology sequencing, healthy competition and the state-of-the-art in component parts have all combined to create undue frustration by everyone except, likely, Apple.

A watched pot never boils.