The iPad’s woes — An analysis beyond the fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

I’ve been reading a few very good articles about the supposed demise (and the phoenix rise) of the iPad and its adjacent ecosystem over the past few days — Thanks to Jean-Louis Gassée and his Monday Note blog for the inspiration to write my own thoughts on this — Which started as a comment to the first article here and burgeoned into what I present to you —

I’m going to break it down a bit, as both a fan of Apple’s products/services and someone who uses just about everything else and has to make them play nice (its the CTO job folks — When you’re responsible for the tech strategy for workplace in the enterprise, you dont hole up with one ecosystem).

The challenge for both the traditional iPad and the iPad Pro ambitions that Apple has is quite simple — And its the same problem that plagued its competitors until lately and is still a challenge in each of the Apple/Google/Microsoft stacks of hardware and software: Apps.

Most of you are asking yourselves: “How can he say that?”, well I dont mean volume of applications — I mean “fit for purpose” applications. Where are all of the adaptations of the BEST creative software programs? Where are the improvements to take advantage of the multi-tasking capabilities of iOS9, which is already pushing 2 years old? Where are all of the social media and collaboration apps (for both personal AND work lives — Since most of us possess both!) My 12.9 iPad Pro is still WAY underutilized because I can’t “split-screen” with the right apps to do my job AND live my life. Microsoft went “all in” on iPad support as part of their 2016 Office launch, but forgot Skype for Business and OneDrive integration points that were clearly needed at the OS level. I NEED to have SfB behave as well or better than iMessage/e-Mail. I NEED to ensure that EVERY app you make for Mac and Windows looks at iPad as the “third business platform” — That doesn’t mean I want watered-down versions, but if they must be, they need to support a majority of core functions while retaining touch, keyboard and Pen-friendliness. Office’s core apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) nail this. OneDrive, Skype for Business (a re-skin of the old Lync app), and their other apps do NOT. Even Authenticator, a valuable element of 2-factor auth for many Office365 shops is a real-estate nightmare on the 12.9–er…

But wait — This isn’t just Microsoft’s fault — Apple themselves have shortcomings when it comes to the 12.9 being a format/aspect shift, and even the 9.7 support of basic multi-tasking features. (EVERY Apple app and those they curate for “Editors Choice” should be capable of EVERY feature of the OS — Approval revoked from the store if not!) Facebook doesn’t even support the 12.9’s native resolution — NOR does it support split screen! Facebook! (Messenger does, but thats for kids — How many teens have iPad Pro 12.9's?)

Then there’s Adobe — They make some killer/cool apps for iPad and they support great features for CC subscribers. But I’m SO CONFUSED (even I, an Adobe user for over 25 years and a techie-by-trade) as to what app does what and links into what desktop app — OK the Photoshop ones I get — Why isn’t there just one app with those feartures called “Photoshop Mobile” or something. Fix/Mix/Sketch/Express — Its all very confusing… And Are they all current apps or are some there for legacy support? What does Spark Page vs. Spark Post, vs Spark Video do? Why are they not just an APPLICATION CALLED SPARK!!! Comp, Connect, etc. The same story — Comp should be called Indesign Express/Mobile. Spark might be its own product but where is it aligned on the desktop? — Anyway, enough about Adobe — This is fragmentation and is ignorance of your core brand strength. It literally needs a “for Dummies” book to figure out how to use and WHAT to use in the Adobe mobile space.

For your reference: A fellow struggler with deeper thoughts:

Dear Adobe, Your iPad Apps are a Mess.

Where is everyone else? I thought XCode made it easy to create App Experiences across iOS — Its certainly lucrative business… There are a NUMBER of apps out there that are amateur at best… Or are state of the art for 2012 — The peak of the iPad popularity craze… And they stagnate there. iOS 10.3 sheds light on this… Literally DOZENS of my apps on my iPad Air 2 are no longer compatible with it as a 64-bit device- Says the new Settings applet for incompatible apps — Some of these are epic games that I paid money for — Why not re-release (and re-sell) these? Some people are keeping old iPads because they still work and WORK BETTER for those beloved apps. If I have a series of apps (NOVA, I’m looking at YOU!) I want to play the ENTIRE series on one platform (This isn’t like an XBox 360>XBox One transition — The game installed on my new iPad and was supported until it was updated!) This is leading to a new kind of fragmentation for Apple — One that is resulting in a demand for older devices that never update past iOS 6, 8, or 9, where specific compatibility/architecture leaps have alienated good paid apps. This is a developer gap, a missed revenue opportunity, and an ecosystem error in my opinion, and one that’s driving SOME buying behavior.

Then there’s the indistinction of the platform itself — iPad is iPad. Why NOT take the stance a la the game console makers and others and deliniate a series and control compatibility that way — iPad Pro, iPad Air, “iPad” — All series in their own right but lots of overlap and spec similarities — Maybe iPads need an edition classification system that gets baked into the App Store to drive sales/resales and differentiates hardware revisions even more. Of course this would require Apple to throw additional features in on the premium lot — A different UI/UX for iOS? Themeability/Personalization beyond order of the icons in the grid perhaps? This would drive average consumers to upgrade, and devalue older gear that otherwise still works. This would also align well to the Apple strategy of creating “Pro” monikers that make “professionals” want the higher-end device, despite the lack of use case/business case for upgrading (something even I have been guilty of).

This whole 32/64 compatibility issue is going to be a PR nightmare when non-techies upgrade to a new OS that kills all 32-bit apps (still the majority in the store) and the OS they CANT uninstall or roll-back is keeping them from using their favorite PAID apps (or apps where they’ve invested significant IAPs). They could pull a Samsung and stop software updates to less desirable editions even if they could handle it. They could hold back iOS updates for all but the coolest, most magical release of hardware… All of those things would work. But in reality — All of those things would be extremely anti-consumer and are THE PRINCIPLE REASON I own Apple products over Samsung or other mobility maker devices. (Admittedly I have a few Nexus and HP/Microsoft devices too [again, CTO, remember?])

What it boils down to, is that the App Store owner (Apple, in this case) has to bear down on its constituency in the developer community to update existing apps or create compatible versions for the newer platform (even if for re-sale) — This wouldn’t be an easy pill for some budget-concious consumers (some of those folks are still plugging away on an iPad 2 unaffected anyway) but 64-bit re-write and updates for iOS 10/11 could be a revenue carrot to dangle for devs that usually only see significant sales of their paid apps around the launch window (I haven’t seen any forecasts, but this could, theoretically, spur a separate “launch surge” of purchases).

Maybe the root issue lies in this question — Is the “success” of the platform always in growth by unit volume sales, or growth/position by usage? iPad may not be the Sales Leader any longer that it once was, but its reached a stage of “Q-Tip/Kleenex commonality” that few could argue with and should be, since there is a supporting application sales and media ecosystem behind it, just as favorable to stockholders as direct-new-device-sales, coupled with more natural methods to entice on the new hardware front (albeit at a slower pace than during the hype cycle). How can the industry create measures that forecast success for these companies based on “longevity value to the consumer” (a nice way to say LOCK IN) that is worth as much as (or MORE!) than planned obsolescence would be, which seems to be every competitors answer, save for Microsoft, who is definitely learning a few tricks with Windows-as-a-Service and the inevitable longer-lasting devices that will ensue there. (Don’t get me started on THEIR app problems! — Many of which have the same solutions actually!)

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