Apple needs to make us at least think they're paying attention to the iPad

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

Apple had their quarterly earnings call today and they announced numbers that almost all deemed pretty darn good. iPhones were up! Apple Watch was up! Macs were up! Services and Other were both up! But amidst all that good news was the iPad: down again. It was the 12th straight month of decline for the iPad, which is insane. The only other Apple product on anything close to a trend like that is the iPod. Not a flattering comparison.

So what's going on here? Is the iPad done? Was the iPad just a fad or did Apple handle something poorly that has damned the iPad to being a footnote in history? I contend, as I long have, that the iPad is a big deal, and I truly believe it can be an integral part of computers from this day forward. But Apple is getting in their own way when it comes to the product in one very important way.

The problem lies in iOS itself.

It's both a blessing and a curse that the iPad runs iOS. Being iOS means it gets all the new features the iPhone gets every year. iOS means the iPad is a familiar interface to the many millions of iPhone users out there. iOS also means that the continuity features that Apple has between the iPhone and Mac as well, work even better and more seamlessly on the iPad. iOS is the heart of the iPad.

However, iOS development clearly prioritizes iPhone features first, and iPad features second. What this means in practice is that we get new iPhone-centric features in iOS every year, but the iPad gets new things specific to it in the off chance Apple has extra time left over.

This has manifested itself in iOS holding pretty steady on the iPad for years. Think back on the last 4 releases:

iOS 7 brought a new UI, but no major iPad features. Hell, the beta for the iPad wasn't even ready for developers at WWDC in 2013, they had to wait a few weeks to get it!

iOS 8 was a big release for iOS, but again no specific features were added for iPad. We got Continuity, but that was more an ecosystem feature, than something that really helped the iPad.

iOS 9 was a bigger deal for the iPad, bringing split screen multitasking, Apple Pencil support, better keyboard settings, and a few more niceties. This one got us pretty excited about Apple starting to take the iPad more seriously.

iOS 10 launched last fall with so little iPad fanfare it was shocking. There were ZERO new iPad specific features added to the platform, and to this day if you got to Apple's iOS 10 page and look at the 24 devices pictured in their promo shots, only 2 of those are iPads, lost in an ocean of iPhones.

So what the hell is going on, Apple? The iPad is wonderful, and your third party developers are breaking their backs to make some amazing software for it. Even as I write this today, The Iconfactory has just released a great new app for iOS called Linea, which looks fantastic. But where is Apple in helping these developers do more? iOS 10 brought no new iPad features, and a lot of us had our hopes up that this spring's 10.3 release would bring the good stuff. Well the 10.3 beta has hit and theres…zero new iPad features.


In November 2015 Tim Cook said:

I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?

I was with you, Tim. But then in October 2016 I suddenly had to replace my Mac mini, and I went with a MacBook Pro, not an iPad Pro. I wanted to get the iPad, I really did, but I couldn't, not because the hardware wasn't good enough, but because of the software. I'm an edge case in that I do a lot of "pro" stuff on my computer, but I was very close to making the jump to the all iOS lifestyle. But when it came down to it, I spent more money and got a Mac.

If Apple is really serious about the iPad being the PC replacement they think it is, they need to get more serious about the software it's running. Keep your foot on the gas when it comes to the iPhone, but they need to put more effort into the iPad before it's too late.

I keep telling people I believe in this platform, and I really do, but the iPad would benefit from some more liberties taken on the software side. Don't treat everything as so sacred, and mix it up a little. A grid of icons makes sense for a 3.5 inch home screen, but it's really silly on a 13 inch one. The App Store and the app model work wonderfully for the super vast majority of people, but professional users need more than that; bring us side-loading apps and something that emulates system utilities (such as clipboard managers, custom launchers, and minimal background tasks from the Mac) for those who need them. Provide more powerful APIs so developers can make apps that aren't crippled in any way compared to their Mac counterparts.

There's plenty more Apple could do, but at the very least they need to start making it look like they're doing something. I've long said the iPad has more power than it knows what to do with. The iPad hardware is truly amazing, and it my favorite tech hardware right now, period, but it's software is falling too far behind.