As has become routine when Apple announces it's quarterly financials the Apple pundits have much to say about the iPad which has seen yet another decline in numbers. Most of it mirrors what has been said the past couple of years which is to say concern that Apple is not doing enough to develop the iPad part of iOS and also that not enough is being done by Apple to promote the iPad. I agree with both.
A lot has been written this week on the topic but the two I found the most useful were by Rene Ritchie and Khoi Vinh.
Rene's post was notable in that he hit on something that has really been bugging me, that the Apple-centric media has gotten into the bad habit of mostly writing for itself and analyzing Apple only from it's very narrow perspective. The problem with that is that it results in a very distorted and, frankly, wrong analysis. The general public thinks and behaves very differently. A part of why the Applesphere has gotten the iPad story wrong is because they have forgotten that the mainstream does not obsess about this stuff. They don't obsess over the details of the operating system nor do they update their computers every year or even every other year. It's a fun device with practical uses. There are at least 16 of them being used in my extended family but they don't get updated every other year. There are original iPads still in use as well as all the other versions. They are sturdy devices that are being used for multiple years before being replaced. As Rene pointed out:
That's what Steve Jobs meant when he called iPad the future of computing. His dream, and the consistent goal of Apple over the years, from Apple II to Mac to iMac to iPad, was mainstreaming computer technology. It's also why Jobs spoke of trucks and cars. iPad wasn't a PC, it was something that the majority of people would eventually find more practical than a full-on PC.
It seems pretty clear that at least a part of the reason that iPad sales have declined is that many were purchased over the first 3-4 years and those are still being used and many will continue to be used. An iPad 4 is good enough for my sister, my parents, my granny, my aunt, my uncle and so on. They very likely don't even know what version of iPad they have or what version of iOS it is running. Until it runs out of storage space they'll keep using it.
In his post The iPad Is Not Done, Khoi Vinh, says a bit more about the iPad as it relates to those of us that do more with the iPad than non-techies. Specifically that the iPad has much more potential with the refinement of iOS. This is a group of people that have spent more time thinking about the iPad as a tool and would like to do more but have found it lacking thus far or found it lacking three years ago.
However, I don’t find it plausible to conclude that just because the iPad isn’t growing right now that that means it can’t grow again. For me, it’s a fallacy to think that the iPad we have today represents the peak expression of what an iPad can be. Yes, you could argue that the trend towards larger smartphones and thinner laptops has robbed the iPad of some of its distinctive qualities, but that would really only be true from a hardware perspective. There’s loads of untapped potential in iPad software.
I think this group includes people that complain about the iPad not having this or that feature when in fact it does. People that may have tried it in the past and written it off fairly quickly. These are folks that take their computing seriously but want the power of an operating system they are used to. From 2011 to 2014 iOS was far more limited on the iPad. I suspect that many from this group have not given iPad a proper re-evaluation and may not have explored all of the features introduced with iOS 9. They still see the iPad as the device that was unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2010. They've long since given their iPads to their kids to use or have lost them on a shelf somewhere. They likely use a Mac and an iPhone.
This group also includes the people who are actively using an up-to-date iOS 10 iPad and are fully aware of the features and the shortcomings. This group sees the potential Vinh wrote about. Interestingly much of this potential might be realized with just a few additions such as drag and drop between split screen windows, multiple windows of the same application in split screen, and an improved application picker in split screen mode are all features I'd like and that I've seen mentioned repeatedly by others. Of course there's more but just a handful of these features would go a long way towards making iPad "power" users happy and more productive.
For myself, I certainly expect Apple will improve iOS for iPad. Of course they will. It just takes time. I expect much of what we've been longing for will be released with iOS 11 given that 10 was largely focused on the iPhone. And because I think the iPad is such a fantastic device I do also hope that Apple does more to tell the story of what a great tool it can be. It seems likely that 2017 will see this happen as both iPad Pro models are likely going to see updates. Combine those updates with iOS 11 and I think we will also see a renewed effort from Apple to re-introduce the iPad to the public. Only Apple knows at this point.