This past October Apple revealed to the world their latest iteration of the iPad with the iPad Pro. The device is surely the most beautiful iPad ever made, and it also packs a punch, boasting more processing power than an Xbox One S. The device impressed fans and the media alike, but would later be criticized for its inability to replace a laptop. Here’s my take on the device and something that a lot of reviewers seem to forget about in their review: Apple doesn’t know what they want the iPad to be in 2018. Allow me to explain below:
The Original iPad
Let’s start by taking a trip back in time to 2009, the year that Steve Jobs revealed Apple’s newest gadget to the world: the original iPad. I decided to take a look back at that keynote and I realized that back in 2010, the timing for the tablet category was almost perfect. Most phones had tiny screens back then, with the iPhone at the time having a 3.5-inch screen (iPhone 4). It wasn’t only until early the following year, in 2011, where the first “phablet” phone would be revealed by Samsung. I’m talking about the first generation of the Galaxy Note, which had a whopping 5.3-inch display (Today’s iPhone X has a 5.8-inch screen). The ultrabook category hadn’t really started yet, with the only real “powerful” thin and light coming in the form of the MacBook Air at the time. The category of laptops wouldn’t be radically changed until around 2012, with the reveal of the original Microsoft Surface, and the ensuing ultrabook revolution.
A Media Consumption Device
As I watched through that original 2009 keynote, I realized that Apple back in 2010 introduced the iPad as a media consumption device. The actual iPad portion of the keynote literally consisted of Steve Jobs showing the device in person, and then demonstrating some key features of the iPad via a real-time demo. “What apps did he show off?” you may ask. Well, he showed off the iPad doing what we today would take for granted as basic tasks. I’m talking about reading and composing emails, browsing the web, watching video, and looking at photos. The original iPad didn’t even have a camera (for good reason, tablets were never meant to be used to take photos in the first place). The iPad’s unique selling point, the reason that people should adopt it right away, was that Apple believed that the best way to consume media, be it anything from books to movies to interactive websites, was via a tablet device with the iPad. Nowhere in the original product pitch was the idea that an iPad could be used as a major media creation device.
Laptops and Phones Evolve as Tablet Sales Fall
As time went on, many other companies would go on to introduce tablets to compete with Apple’s iPad. The Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 (both released in 2012) by Google would aim to compete with the iPad by offering bigger and smaller screens than the iPad and would run Google’s Android operating system. Samsung would continue to try and compete as well with its ongoing Galaxy Tab series, and Amazon would join in by expanding it’s Kindle line to include not only e-readers but traditional tablets with the release of the Kindle Fire. An important aspect of this early tablet market was that these devices were originally designed to be cheap and relatively accessible, often coming in at around the same price as a flagship phone, or even a little cheaper. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire both came in starting at $200 in 2012, and the original iPad was released starting at $500 (which was relatively cheap for Apple at the time).
Windows 8: The Ultrabook Revolution
At around this same time, Windows was undergoing a transformation. Windows 8 launched in 2012 along with Microsoft’s Surface device (which techniclly ran Windows RT at first, but would later run Windows 8. That’s a different story for a different day.) Windows 8, whilst being highly controversial and disliked by many, pushed the envelope for both the PC and tablet categories. It was the first time that a major company challenged the notion that the PC and the tablet had to be different devices. Microsoft dared to say that you could bring your Surface to work to use as a laptop, and then bring it home to use as a tablet later on for entertainment and play. This proposition launched us into the age of ultrabooks, a product category that eventually gave us what we have today: touch-screen laptops that run traditional Windows, are super lightweight and thin, and would replace tablets as a media consumption device for many people. The lifespan of Windows 8 would be short-lived, as Microsoft quickly moved to appease fans by shipping Windows 10 in 2015, but the lasting impact of Windows 8 can be seen in even today’s PC’s. This trend surely had an impact on Apple when developing hardware at the time.
Smartphones get bigger: The Phablet Revolution
Another industry trend that occured around this time was the rise of “big” screens in smartphones, with the term “big” meaning a different thing each year as smartphone screens grew rapidly from the years 2012-2015. That trend has slowed down a bit now, as smartphone manufacturers try to cut down bezel sizes to fit as much screen as they can onto as small of a device that they can. But back in 2012-2015, it was all about who had the biggest display. Samsung was the first major player in this game as mentioned before with the Galaxy Note, but other manufacturers would quickly catch up. Apple even got into this game themselves with the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014. The 6 Plus featured a 5.5 inch display, and was meant to compete with that year’s Galaxy Note 5, a device that featured a 5.7 inch display. For many people, having a larger phone screen meant that they really didn’t feel the need to buy a tablet, and this, along with the Ultrabook Revolution, led to sales declining in the tablet category in the following years.
Tablet Sales Fall
The tablet category reached maturity very quickly, as is the case with a lot of consumer electronics products. The unprecedented growth that the category saw in its first few years surely couldn’t have been kept up forever, and this was seen in 2015, with sales being down from the previous year for tablets for the first time in history. This was again, a result of the phablet and ultrabook revolutions that were pushing the tablet out. For many people, there was just no need for a third mobile computiong device in their lives. This led to many companies trying new things. This included Apple, who asked themselves “What was next for the iPad?”
2015: The iPad Pro and the New MacBook
A Media Creation Device
Apple’s answer to this was the iPad Pro: a device advertised as a replacement to portable PC’s. According to Phil Schiller, Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, the new iPad Pro was already faster than 80% of portable PC’s when it was revealed (I wonder if it was faster than Apple’s own laptops at the time?). The “Pro” tablet was presented as a productivity device, a machine for content creators instead of content consumers. Demos included a representative from Adobe showing off three new Adobe apps (which all seemed to be not as in-depth as computer-equivalent apps), a Microsoft Office demo (without any keyboard use), and an extensive Apple Pencil demo, as Apple also revealed that device for the first time at their 2015 event.
A MacBook to Replace Your iPad?
What is interestingly weird about 2015 for Apple is that they seemed to release many devices with the same target audience in mind. That year, Apple shipped the new 12 inch MacBook, a device that was definitely not for power users but came at a premium price. Reviewers such as Marques Brownlee said they see the device as a tablet-replacement rather than as a mobile workstation. This is a little confusing because that means in 2015 Apple introduced a Mac to replace your iPad as well as an iPad to replace your Mac. Read that last sentence again if you need to. This leads to the point of my article: Apple doesn’t know what they want an iPad to be in 2018.
Conclusion: The iPad Pro isn’t a Laptop Killer
Here we are in 2018: Apple has shipped it’s second generation of iPad Pro, a device that is meant to replace your laptop, but can’t do half of the things that you do with your laptop any more efficiently than you already do. It comes in at a premium price, though. With $800, you could either get a base model iPad Pro, or a device like the Dell XPS 13, a capable Windows machine that undoubtedly will be easier to use for most computing tasks when compared to the iPad Pro.
A relatively easy solution to this would be to attach a keyboard to the new iPad and let it run MacOS but with iOS apps, but that dream is still a bit off. Tim Cook has said this year that there are no plans to merge MacOS and iOS in any way. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in the future, though. A killer device would be a MacBook Pro with an iPad touch display, being able to run the best iOS creative apps inside MacOS. Apple isn’t doing this anytime soon though, so don’t get your hopes up.
As of today, Apple really wants you to believe that the iPad Pro can be a more efficient mobile workstation than a laptop, but right now that is just not the case. The app support isn’t there yet, and Apple still needs to work around the issue of lacking a proper keyboard. Maybe the iPad Pro is meant for a new generation of creatives, the generation that grew up using iPhones and is used to touching a screen to interact with their device. Or, maybe in a few years we will get a MacBook Pro with iPad display. As of the end 2018, though, the future of iPad Pro and even the MacBook line are big question marks for Apple, reviewers, and customers alike.
Additional sources used for this report: