Apple recently announced their quarterly earnings and it turns out the fruit company is doing well. The iPhone sales return to growth, the Mac is doing well, revenue from services is up. The outlier was the iPad.
The iPad's sales are down for the 2016 holidays compared to the 2015 holidays. Not surprisingly, the iPad is now the whipping boy (again) for Apple pundits.
A lot of folks are arguing that the reason iPad isn't selling that well is because it's built too well. People keep their iPads a long time and don't feel any burning desire to upgrade. I've seen anecdotal evidence of this in my life. I was talking to a physician friend of mine that uses her iPad every day. She's carrying the first generation iPad Air (which is now nearly four years old) and she still loves it. I asked her why she didn't upgrade to the iPad Pro and she looked at me like I was crazy. "Why should I? This one works great!"
I don't view this as a problem. The fact that Apple makes devices of sufficient quality that people can use them for years is a reason why people come to Apple in the first place.
In my mind, the issue is that users are not pushing the iPad harder to do more work for them, which would naturally end up in users wanting to buy newer, faster, and better iPads. Put simply, I think the issue is software.
While iOS 9 made some productivity strides to the iPad operating system, iOS 10 did not. I was hoping we would see an update to iOS 10 sometime after launch that improves productivity on the iPad but now we're in iOS 10.3 beta, and there are no signs of anything like that coming. June isn't that far away and I think the next opportunity is iOS 11.
I know this is one of my pet issues and every time I write about it, I get emails explaining that making the iPad more complex would cause more problems than it would solve. I disagree. Consumers have been using the iOS operating system now for 10 years. People generally understand how it works. I believe the smart people at Apple could make the iOS operating system for the iPad more powerful (and a bit more complex) without substantially interfering with consumers that want to keep it simple. Moreover, giving it some more powerful tools (even something as simple as making it easier to select and manipulate multiple objects and files at once) would substantially increase the ability for users to get productive work done with their iPads.
At last year's iPad Pro event Apple made a big deal about how the iPad is powerful enough to replace a PC laptop. I believe for a lot of people that could be true. But it's not quite there yet because of the software limitations.
In my informal observations at coffee shops and courthouses, I'm seeing increasing numbers of Microsoft Surface laptop computers. I believe people do want an ultralight computer to help get their work done. I am certain some percentage of those Microsoft customers considered an iPad but for whatever reason chose not use one. I'd even argue that for a lot of those people the iPad was perfectly up to the task of whatever it is they're doing on that Microsoft computer.
If Apple wants to see an increase in iPad sales, I think the answer is making them more useful and getting the word out. Apple should get serious about adding features to iOS that allows users to be more productive in getting their work done. On top of that, Apple should start demonstrating to the public with some its clever advertising how lots of normal people are getting work done on the iPad. I'm not talking about videos of people taking the iPad deep-sea diving but instead how people use it to make spreadsheets, write documents, and all the other work that most of us do to pay for our shoes.