2017 iPads: Part 1 done. Part 2 at WWDC.

It seems like all Apple fanboys are impatiently waiting for the WWDC Keynote. It is basically certain, that all of Apple’s operating systems will get a refresh, but there have been a few rumors claiming that a new 10.5″ iPad Pro and Siri Speaker are coming as well.

The reason why Apple is introducing new iPads at an increased rate, is because the iPad sales are falling. Quickly. Even though Google doesn’t seem to be focusing on tablets anymore, Chromebooks are slowly becoming a threat for the iPad. On top of that, it seems like people replace iPads much less frequently than phones, which are usually replaced every 2 years (once a given contract ends), at least in the US.

Depending on how you look at it, there are two solutions to the situation:

 

#1: Lower the price – increase volume

affordable_new_9-7-inch_ipad_group_fan

This is what Apple did earlier in the year with the introduction of the “iPad”. It could be categorized as an Air 2 successor, but ironically enough, it’s not better in every way. Mostly because it uses a thicker and heavier body of the first-generation iPad Air. In short, here is the summary of the 2017 iPad.

  • Thicker / heavier than the iPad Air 2 (Same thickness as the iPad Air 1)
  • Non-laminated 9.7″ Retina Display (Unlike the iPad Air 2), but has higher maximum brightness
  • Slightly improved camera
  • More powerful components (A9 Chip)
  • Cheaper base price – $329 (32 GB Wi-Fi only model)

The last two points are the important ones, and clearly prove how Apple is positioning this device. Not putting in any gimmicks, but only focusing on the essential components. And making those good. A newer processor doesn’t only look nice on paper, but in this case, it means it will be able to handle new features of upcoming software updates with a smaller hit on overall performance. In other word, good news for the customer.

So even though we don’t get 4K video recording, the thinnest chassis, Apple Pencil, the Smart Connector, and (probably most importantly) a laminated display, I can in all honesty say, that Apple cut the right corners to keep the price down.

If you are on an iPad Air or an older device, this might be an interesting upgrade, especially if all you need is just extra storage and less laggy operation. On the other hand, if you have the Air 2, there is not really a reason to upgrade. The Air 2 still performs just fine, and by upgrading you would in fact lose some features.

I personally hope Apple will not neglect this “budget iPad branch”, and we will get a new one in 2018 with the slimmer design, probably an A10 chip, and a laminated display. I can guarantee you, that when that happens, I will start running around recommending that device to my entire family and all my friends.

 

#2: Add features – increase potential customer base

That’s what Apple tried to do with the iPad Pros. Many creative professionals find those amazing, so calling it a failed product wouldn’t be quite right, it’s more like a failed mission. New customers were brought into the iPad ecosystem, but it wasn’t enough to even slow down the falling sales.

I mostly blame the marketing. Apple pitches the iPad Pro as “a device which can replace your computer”. It’s not the first company to use this sort of language. Microsoft has been saying that about their Surface 2-in-1s for years now. The difference? Apple basically took the iPad Air 2, added some usual improvements, like a better camera, newer internals, refined the screen, added a Smart Connector for attaching accessories, and integrated support for a $99 stylus, the Apple Pencil. Plus, they slapped “Pro” into the name, making it a good excuse to increase the base price by $100.

The Surface is a PC, with a regular USB port, a “real” file system, and traditional PC programs. It may not be the most elegant solution, but as of early 2017, the Surface products have surpassed iPads in terms of consumer satisfaction for the first time since their release.

That’s where the 10.5″ iPad Pro is supposed to come in. From the rumors we have been hearing, it will most likely be slightly larger than the current 9.7″ iPad Pro, but the bezels should be smaller.

Reducing bezels seems to be the biggest trend of 2017, but that is not the reason why the iPad is not selling. So what about other features?

Well, we don’t know. I guess we will just have to wait and see. I sincerely hope this radio silence doesn’t mean that the form factor is the only big change for this year. I get that Steve Jobs didn’t like the idea of combining a laptop with a tablet, and I know Tim Cook is probably worried about cannibalizing their laptop business by doing so, but can you imagine Apple still offering only 3.5″ iPhones? Times change, and there is nothing wrong with changing business plans…

In fact, in the days of the iPad 2, it used to be my favorite Apple product. I would use my iPad for everything. It was convenient to carry around, take notes, write e-mails, even do some light content creation thanks to the massive catalogue of good quality apps.

7 years later, and the iPad can do these things better than ever, but only these things. The 12″ Pro is as powerful as the lowest-end MacBook, yet it’s still very much limited by the operating system. There is nothing you can do with the performance. It’s not like people complained that the old ones were slow…

I think that the situation has gotten into such point, that Apple can only save the situation by morphing the current iOS into “padOS”, with features, apps, and user interface designed exclusively for the large displays and power offered by iPads. Some examples:

  • Home-screen which uses space more efficiently
  • Multi-user support
  • Touchpad / Mouse support
  • Native support for external storage devices
  • “True” external display support
  • “Professional apps” (Finder, Final Cut Pro X, etc.)

If there is one company which could crack this, it’s Apple, thanks to the extremely crucial developer support.

If Tim Cook walks on stage and says that the new iPad is going to offer features previously available only on laptops, and that he wants apps to take advantage of them, I bet that within a year the App Store would be full of titles we know and love from macOS and Windows.

By the way, I would also like Apple to finally switch the iPads to use the USB-C which they are pushing so hard on their laptops, but that’s for a different article.

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