Apple wants to turn the iPad from luxury to necessity

AUGUST 15TH, 2016 — POST 224

Apple’s “iEra” is decidedly over. Ushered through most notably by Steve Jobs, it began with a music player in 2001 that changed the music industry and ended with Jobs “leaning back” with a tablet on a couch onstage in 2010. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad became Apple’s trojan horses: affordable entrants into a user’s consumer electronics portfolio — critically interoperable with the then-ubiquitous Windows PC OS — that would fundamentally alter pretty much everything they touched. Even though Apple continued to deliver innovation in their Mac and MacBook lines — even if this has slowed recently — there was a sense that the iEra would eventually produce not only The Next Thing but also The One Thing.

But the iEra is over. When the Apple Watch was announced in 2014 — long rumoured to be named “iWatch” — it was clear the iEra was respectfully laid to rest with the company’s iconic co-founder. And the products of the fruits of the iEra have changed status. The iPod — once a status symbol — conjures the same nostalgia as a Discman or Gameboy Color. The iPhone is as dependable a force as gravity — everywhere but unlikely to serve up any surprises.

The iPad, however, is strangely in flux. As The Verge reports, Apple is rumoured to be developing a 10.5” iPad Pro — a size to slot between the standard-since-the-jump 9.7” and the what-do-I-even-do-with-this 12.9” iPad Pro released last year. And here we were thinking the tablet had basically worked itself out. When Jobs sat with the first generation iPad on that couch, the product made sense: the iPad — and tablets generally — were luxurious, the ultimate coffee table book. The value proposition of the iPad from inception was that it provided room to breathe — a large handheld screen to browse the web, watch videos, and noodle around with some low-intensity games.

Luxury is most certainly not necessity. And the lack of necessity of tablets saw explosive adoption: all at once then not much after. By the end of 2012, it was reported that 1 in 4 Americans had a tablet but it turned out that the purchase cycle was dramatically longer than other iEra devices. An iPad would almost always be a third device, and users would put up with a lot lower standard of “good enough”, resisting upgrading. And so the world came to acknowledge a stabilised tablet market. Android tablets — who in late 2012 sniffed at the big leagues with the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 — have all but faded into obscurity, something you chuck at your kids when you want to watch something on TV undisturbed.

The building out of the iPad Pro line with this rumoured new 10.5” model signals that Apple needs to convert the iPad into a necessity. The iPhone is notoriously starting to stagnate — the company beginning to double down on its services businesses of Apple Music and iCloud (and TV if they can pull it off). It’s blindingly clear that luxury and tablets can be taken for granted: Apple’s newest iPad Pro commercial never once shows the tablet without a keyboard connected, never once doing anything except getting stuff done. The iPad — starting to come of age — is finding its new identity. Instead of dying its hair and a tattoo on its bicep, it’s trying on its first suit.

At least that’s what Apple seems to be betting on. But the “Pro” moniker and a modest portfolio of compatible accessories might just be a little too superficial. As has long been understood, iOS itself might just be the biggest barrier to iPad’s new image — like the 15 yr old who dresses like Sid Vicious but will still have his braces on for the next year and a half.

iOS — inseparable from the iEra and its products — remains constructed around hermetic apps. Even though features like split screen and floating video pop-outs allow some metaphorical movement across this hermeticity, it at best feels like the barriers between apps are semi-permeable instead of actually being broken down. And whilst there are world-class apps on the iPad, this hermeticity — most evident in the lack of a unified file system, each app managing its own data — just holds the device back.

Sure, there’s a whole bunch you can get done on an iPad. I personally like writing on an iPad because of its hermeticity. The extra friction keeps me focussed on a single app, a focus that for writing can be invaluable. As a dedicated writing instrument, it could be close to perfect, with the aid of a good keyboard of course. But dedicated devices aren’t necessary when other devices can do it all. In fact, dedicated devices are luxurious. And that’s exactly what the iPad needs to run away from.

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