Why We Need a New iPhone Every Year, Not so Much With iPad

There has been much discussion about why the iPad sales are not so stellar compared to the iPhone. It seems we want a new iPhone every year because the technology changes so fast. Why isn't that happening with the iPad?


I started thinking about this effect in a new light after reading this article at Business Insider "One of the most accurate Apple analysts just spilled a ton of new details about the iPhone 6s." Some of those predictions by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo sound reasonable and others not so much, according to my colleague, Bryan Chaffin.

Instead, what I am interested in is the applicability of these  interesting (rumored) features of the iPhone 6s to a future iPad.

For example, at one time, it was thought that the iPhone 6 would have a sapphire display. For technical reasons that need not detain us here, that didn't come to pass. But if it did, how would that technology fit with the 9.7-inch display of an iPad? Aside from cost, the manufacturing issues would seem to become a serious issue on a display of that size.

And so, a working thesis is that technologies that can be instituted on a 5.5-inch iPhone might well be impractical on a 10-inch iPad. This explains, in part, the popularity of phablets, and it explains why the iPhone 6 exploded in popularity. In that spirit, let's look at some of the other iPhone 6s technologies discussed by Mr. Kuo and how they might apply to a future iPad.

1. New casing materials and new colors. Apple has already introduced new colors on the iPad series and added gold with the iPad Air 2. As for new materials, Apple is always looking to make the iPad thinner and lighter, so this technology gets a thumbs up.

Image credit: Apple

2. A scratch-resistant sapphire coating. That certainly sounds like something Apple could tout in the next generation iPad. A coating is more likely to work over a larger area than a thin slab of sapphire—which isn't as impervious to blunt force and cracking as Gorilla Glass 4.

3. Force Touch. The iPhone could certainly use another gesture to help with the user interface (UI). How practical or necessary this would be on the larger iPad screen remains to be seen. If possible, Apple should include it in future iPads to keep the UI consistent, just as the company has done with Touch ID.

4. A 12 megapixel camera. It's not likely that Apple would invest seriously in a best possible camera in a new iPad, especially a 12-inch model. iPhones are our always-with-us pocket camera. iPads have a camera for occasional, emergency use.

An iPad camera only has to be good enough, and that's one technology, thanks to the iPad's size, that holds it back. Besides, when Jimmy Fallon makes fun of old people using the iPad as a camera, you know it's not a feature Apple will work super hard on.

5. Improved Touch ID. That's also a no brainer for any future iPad, but it brings up the subject of Apple Pay. The thinking is that if a customer has an iPad, they probably have an iPhone. Why add NFC hardware—at extra cost—to an iPad which isn't always mobile, and if it is, is typically accompanied by an iPhone? In any case, the Apple Watch is best used for (retail) Apple Pay, not an iPad.

Scoring and Inherent Limits of iPad

The result is that there's a mix. Some technologies (#1,2,3) would benefit an iPad. Others (#4,5) Are lost on an iPad. Because an iPhone is our constant mobile companion, it needs certain features, a great camera, NFC (Apple Pay), and GPS. (Only cellular iPads have assisted GPS.)

While it's true that some users carry an iPad mini of some model everywhere, it's far more likely that our iPhone is with us as we head out the door. And because that use case is different and because the iPad is so much larger in size, it doesn't make sense to invest in the very latest technology for some features.  In a sense, the iPad is self-limiting.

If all of this is true, then the iPad will remain a niche device to have around the home or office, but it will never be the showcase for the most advanced technologies available. Or replace the PC. And because of that, a relatively recent iPad is "good enough" and the latest iPhone is a "must have."

It's going to require a fundamental change in the relationship between the two devices before iPad sales can take off again. I've argued in the past that if the iPad is to take on the PC in utilization and sales, it has to have the power and usability of the PC for content creation. That means the simplicity of the iPad, as a super-sized iPhone, has to give way to larger displays, more power and more flexibility in iOS. But that conflicts with Apple's insistence on simplicity. It's a basic dilemma for which there is no easy solution.

Until then, as Tim Cook has admitted in the latest Earnings Report regarding modest iPad sales, it is what it is.