Has Apple’s iPad lost its ‘Post-PC’ promise?

For most of the year there has been some expectation Apple would introduce new iPad models along with new Macs in October. This didn’t happen. In fact, the company has not introduced new iPads since last year, when it last updated the iPad and iPad Pro in October 2022.

At that time, people looked to the increasingly close integration between iPad and Mac as suggesting Apple sees both devices as more closely complementary than ever. That seems to be the case, given the tone of Apple’s latest Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro announcements. These discuss credible creative software improvements that extend across both the Mac and Apple tablet lines. 

Taking the Pencil

The company’s decision not to update the iPads when it introduced M3 Macs may have been the reason the company decided to shunt the creative app releases to the following week, while rewarding iPad users with a USB-C Apple Pencil a week before its ‘Scary’ time.

That’s all a little trivial, but does seem to suggest that at some point there was an expectation of a longer keynote — with new iPads taking a co-starring role.

In the run up to the Apple event, there was still some expectation for a new iPad mini. That didn’t happen, meaning Apple’s smallest $499+ tablet was last refreshed in 2021 and now runs a two-year old processor. Nobody now seems to seriously expect new iPad models until early 2024 — and even those updates will begin with “more minor” refreshes in March.

That presumably means updates to the standard iPad (last improved this time last year), iPad mini, and perhaps iPad Air. If that’s right (and it’s an if), that suggests iPad Pro upgrades may have to wait until later summer/early fall of 2024. (Also speculative).

So what?

Apple’s iPad business is strong, but weak. The company holds the lion’s share of tablet sales, so it doesn’t really matter when it ships new models, does it? Actually, it sort of does.

The company admitted weakness in its iPad range during the last couple of investor calls. It’s not a bad weakness — the range still generated $6.4 billion in revenue and competitors still can’t match what iPads can do — such as running pro video and music production applications. But the momentum of the product line just doesn’t seem to be there.

That revenue figure is down 10%, and it’s interesting that more than half of those purchasing a new iPad are new to the device. While customer satisfaction sits around 98%, this suggests a lot of existing owners are holding off on an iPad upgrade because they don’t see any reason to do so.

The platform is well liked, but people aren’t upgrading, and it’s only the absence of credible competition in the space that’s keeping Apple’s lead. Though that is also a market to tease into action with a strong product update.

No change

Apple doesn’t expect to encourage that activity yet.

“We expect the year-over-year revenue performance for both iPad and wearables, home, and accessories to decelerate significantly from the September quarter due to a different timing of product launches. On iPad, we launched a new iPad Pro and iPad 10th generation during the December quarter a year ago,” company CFO Luca Maestri warned investors.

That means no launch is planned during the current quarter.

In the context of the pro apps announcements this week, this seems odd. The pro apps news would so easily have fit within Apple’s short M3 hardware presentation, and the introduction of a USB-C Apple Pencil by press release in advance of the event was the biggest hint ever that Apple had nothing more to say.

At the same time, at least in the lower end, it’s clear the iPads really do deserve a processor upgrade. The entry-level model runs a three-year-old chip, the A14. You can really feel the difference when you move between an iPad Air with its M1 chip and the entry level iPad 10 as a result.

That Apple isn’t delivering such upgrades to a range of products that are seeing a sales decline seems strange. Surely you improve the product to boost the sales?

What reasons do you need?

While there’s plenty of discussion around foldable iPads, there are perfectly legitimate reasons (beyond the foldable) speculation for this. For example:

  • At present, the most obvious challenges might relate to Apple’s supply chain; it’s possible the company is waiting until production facilities for these devices outside of China are up to speed. Apple is thought to be looking to Vietnam for this. It’s possible that the yields of some processors might be limited, or that the production process it has in mind will see those foldable rumors turn out to be true.
  • Apple has chosen to stagger iPad introductions into its March or June quarters in an attempt to shore up revenues, in anticipation of a tough market. It is able to do so because it already leads the tablet industry, and no credible competitor exists.
  • As it works on Vision Pro, Apple might have had to divert engineering resources in an attempt to meet its self-imposed “early next year” release schedule.

Or all of the above.

All the same, the introduction this week of pro apps for iPads and for Macs shows that, at least in some departments inside Cupertino, there are many who still believe the iPad is going to be the computer most people use in future — and are working really hard to ensure these are creative machines.

That’s not news, of course; tens of thousands of knowledge workers globally use Apple tablets as laptop replacements. But there does seem to be some hiccup in the product line. 

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Angelica Manac

Angelica Manac is a newly Journalist with a strong sense of responsibility and loved her Job as a Journalist.

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