Apple’s marketing of the iPad as a general computing device

Riley Hill at SlatePad has an interesting look back at Apple’s marketing of the iPad as a laptop replacement

Sometimes the iPad is (sort of) marketed as a laptop replacement. Sometimes it’s marketed as a unique kind of device. Being something of an in between product can make iPad difficult to clearly market, but it’s fun to look back at some of the ways Apple has tried to communicate its value over time.

From day one Apple positioned the iPad between the iPhone and Mac. And I’m sure that many buyers were well established Apple users that had both. But in my extended family the iPad was not an in-between device for nerds that already had an iPhone and Mac. Rather, it was the first and only computer for the older generations that had never had a computer. Apple didn’t have to do much to market the iPad to this group. They saw the initial round of iPad ads and bought them without question. And it’s been my observation in the years since that they have all continued using iPads and upgrading every few years when batteries eventually failed or storage ran out.

For my parents, aunts and uncles, the iPad is a fun, easy, safe, no-maintenance device for people that want to use a computer without really thinking about computing. What makes the iPad special is that it gets out of their way. It’s just magic glass. Did Apple know what a hit the iPad would be with the older generations?

An  original iPad docked in Apple's Keyboard Stand sitting on a rustic wood table My original iPad docked in Apple’s Keyboard Stand

I was a Mac user that bought the first iPad and the Keyboard Dock and not long after I found the Gusto app which was likely the first built-for iPad text editor that included an ftp client and an interface specifically for managing web sites. So, early on I was using the iPad for managing client websites.

Jump forward five years to the introduction of the iPad Pro in 2015 and the accompanying statements by Tim Cook in this interview with The Telegraph:

“Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones."

My guess? Apple thought the iPad Pro really could be a notebook/laptop replacement for a few very specific groups of users like students not yet attached to Macs. They really leaned into this group a year later with the smaller 9.7" iPad Pro and the infamous “What’s a Computer?” ad.

But certainly they expected most Mac users would continue using Macs. They weren’t bothered by the idea that a few would switch to the iPad Pro because they knew that many would just end up using both. And they probably hoped that they might add new users that had, up to that point, been using an iPhone along with a Windows laptop.

There’s no way to know if they’ve met their goals with the iPad Pro but they’ve certainly stayed the course in the 9 years since its introduction. Slowly but surely they have iterated iPadOS while improving hardware. They’ve spent considerable time and resources bringing Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro to iPad with version 2 just released.

My hunch is that they are satisfied with the open-ended role of the iPad in the larger Apple ecosystem. I doubt they feel the need to nail it down in the way that pundits want.

Another hunch partly based their Why iPad website is that Apple is primarily marketing the iPad to the younger age brackets. Everything about that page seems to speak to students, creatives and young professionals.