The REAL Reason Apple's iPad is Faltering

Image credit: Apple

Apple's iPad sales started out growing like gangbusters. It looked to become a major product line alongside the iPhone. But then, in the last year, sales have faltered. Various reasons have be put forward: update cycles, the popularity of phablets, and so on. But the real reason goes much deeper.


One reason, I think, the iPhone is doing so well compared to iPads is because every development of technology is pressed into immediate, mobile use. We carry our iPhone everywhere and use it for everything. For example, if the camera is improved, we obtain an immediate benefit in our typically mobile environment.

An iPad, on the other hand is primarily a display device rather than a technical, sensor oriented, device. We don't take many pictures or videos with an iPad (except when we're photographing our iPhone or using it as a sextant). We don't take walks with an iPad to count the number of steps. We don't generally carry an iPad around to use with as a compass or for turn directions in the car. Or routinely make phone calls. 

Apple's has tried to make the iPad a more useful device in our lives by, say, allowing it to make and receive phone calls via Apple's Continuity feature when paired with a local iPhone. Apple has trired to showcase the camera aspects in video ads. However, the iPad seems to remain a device that doesn't routinely exploit all the features of an iPhone which is, after all, a modern Tricorder. In my perspective, we tend to use it for the value of its display, in the right place, at the right time. For example, few read magazines or technical books with diagrams and equations on an iPhone. The iPad's large display is both a plus and a minus.

One can surmise that if all the above is true, an iPhone with a larger display (but still highly portable) amplifies the usability of those iPhone-centric features. Hence, the popularity of phablets: the iPhone 6 Plus. And even the iPhone 6 for the 'tweeners.

This week, a Credit Suisse analyst surmised that the phablets are the cause of the tablet's poor sales. Jay Yarow at Business Insider showed a chart to back up the argument. "Why the iPad business is cratering, in one chart."

However, the "why" isn't really explained by the sales figures. One has to dig deeper and analyze the usage patterns of the iPad compared to the iPhone—which I am sure Apple is doing.

In hindsight now, we know two things. The iPad was a breakthrough in 2010, a seminal product. We needed the iPad dearly. Today, 5 years later, it's widely used for many great things. The second thing we know is that if the iPad remains just a super-sized iPhone, one that can't normally make a phone call on its own nor one that we reach for when we're on our way out the door, then perhaps the usage profile of the iPad has to change.

The larger display of the iPad begs for more capability. The user interface for the iPad, with its fixed pages of icons and single app used at a time (even if data sharing is improving) seems to shackle the iPad and keep it from flourishing as its own unique kind of device. An iPad cannot forever be just a larger iPhone (with the mostly identical iOS), or it will fail in the long run.

This is why I argue for an iPad with a larger display, say, 12.9 inches. That's when the sheer size of the display begs greatly for the exploitation of its expanse. Retaining the iPhone user experience on an 12.9 inch display would be crazy and create a cognitive dissonance that reveals the core of the problem.

This is why I believe the "iPad Pro" has been delayed. Apple has needed time to modify iOS so that a larger iPad can come into its own as a unique, powerful device, mildly orthogonal to the iPhone, with a far richer and capable user interface. When that happens, the iPad will start to blossom again and earn a solid, rightful place in Apple's product line.

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of March 23: Swiss watchmakers in big trouble?

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of March 23


Image credit: Apple




There have been several articles this week that express the view that Swiss watch makers will have a tough time competing against the Apple Watch. In summary, that's because the Apple Watch isn't really just a device that tells the time and date, but rather, a computer on the wrist that leverages from iOS and the iPhone.

While Swiss watch makers were focusing on fine watch movements and mechanical design, Apple was building a massive infrastructure based on iOS. And so, the Swiss are scrambling to catch up. How they'll do remains to be seen. Here's a good collection of articles that sizes up the competitive situation.

  1. "Why Swiss smartwatches have no chance against the Apple Watch," by Dan Frommer.
  2. "An Illusion in Switzerland," by Neil Cybart.
  3. "The Future of the Dumbwatch," by Marco Arment.

One more thing on the Apple Watch. When you go into your local Apple Store in April to shop for an Apple Watch, you may experience a different buying experience than you've had before. No doubt, this is the result of Apple's Angela Ahrendts who has seen to it that Apple's typical salesperson will be well trained to sell a wristwatch that's really a computer in disguise. See this article by Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac on how Apple sales people will build trust and offer fashion views.

I mentioned this before in another article, but in case you missed it, here it is again. It's a great read on how Apple could disrupt the car industry and how little time that industry has left to get its act together. "Apple’s drive for world auto dominance spooks the industry."

Katy Huberty at Morgan Stanley thinks the Apple TV subscription plan (to launch in the fall) could add significantly to Apple's revenues. Here's the analysis from Neil Hughes at AppleInsider. . "Apple subscription TV plan could help push services to 20% of company's earnings, Morgan Stanley says."

Most of the time, when a flashy new smartphone is announced, the wishful thinking syndrome has kicked in. It's declared the next "iPhone killer," because, well, you know, wishing makes it so. Here's a neat summary. "16 Smartphones That Were Deemed ‘iPhone Killer,’ 2008-2011."

Finally, for the second week in a row, in Particle Debris, I've found an article that presents a sobering prognosis for Google. "Google should be terrified right now," by Jay Yarow. My take is that if Google wants to get into the product business, it should work hard and understanding how to create desirable, sustainable products. It's okay to experiment, but there should be a clean line between concept products and products Google wants to sell and support in earnest. For example, I just discovered that the Nexus 10 tablet I reviewed in 2012 has never been refreshed.

Apple's best-of-breed products evolve as we move forward in time, but they generally leverage from each other in a coherent ecosystem. As we've seen, it's hard for companies to duplicate what Apple does in a way that genuinely hurts Apple. However, in time, Google may find that not to be true with its bread and butter search and ad business. And so, as the author suggests, Larry Page should be very concerned about how Google's business model works for the company in the future.


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 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 holidays.