The iPad is 7 years old. What’s next?


When the iPad first appeared in April 2010, it seemed that everyone ridiculed the idea that folks would “pay $500 for an iTunes shopping window with restrictive functions”.

The iPad defined the tablet market, finished off the hateful Adobe Flash platform, drove dual screen consumption, brought computing to new generations (older and younger), encroached onto laptops and invaded the enterprise.

Quite how and why so many industry pundits initially got it wrong is bewildering. It’s clear most didn’t understand the significance. Back in 2010 I was sceptical too, we had ordered a couple of iPads from the US in advance to play with them to get a feel for what we thought might be a game-changer.

The iPads were openly shared around the office, folks would take turns to use them as personal devices for 2 weeks and share their thoughts. Very quickly it became clear that the new device was heavily biased towards consumption. The productivity side of the iPad had yet to emerge as there were no apps that took advantage of what was a brand new device type. But, boy, what a consumption device.

At the time the pundits said, “what use is a big iPod with no camera”. Roll forward 7 years and there are over a billion tablet computers in use today. The tablet created a whole new segment and and took just 3 years to outsell PCs (by Summer 2013). 1 in 3 kids in the UK own a tablet.

The iPad is still the king of “shipped units”, with around 25% of the marketshare. But, that market is declining, eroded from below with low-cost detachable and slates now leading this sector in the market. And the younger generation are now more focussed on larger phones.

We’ve also seen tablet-based computing move into the corporate space, with the launch of the Microsoft Surface Pro and iPad Pro. Both these devices are able to deliver the power, connectivity and security required for major corporates – and they’re a good deal more portable, too, which suits the change in the workplace away from static desks to nomad working, hot-spaces and cloud-computing. But high-end tablet are now expensive, over the double the cost they were 7 years ago.

However, despite 7 years of innovation, tablets still fail to match the flexibility of a traditional laptop with it’s touchpad/mouse arrangement and folks really haven’t adapted well to being without touch pads, due in part to a the ergonomic constraints of touch screens and the “mono-tasking” nature of the tablet user interface.

They can also be expensive, a top-end iPad Pro with a keyboard costs nearly £1200, a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is over £2,000. These are now expensive computing devices and cannot gain the volume market when detachable/convertibles start from under £300. Tablets are also a good deal more fragile in everyday use, a combination of ultraportability (more chances to drop them) and less protection increases the risk of physical damage over a more static, tougher-cased laptop.

Finally, we don’t swap devices as frequently as we once did. Big computing power, improved build quality and less innovation means there is less need to upgrade to the latest thing. Portable computing has moved out of the “cool sector” and is moving towards the “white goods” space.

So what is next?

Larger phones are the biggest eroder of usage in the tablet world as they are, at their core, simply smaller tablets. So why have the need to purchase another, slightly larger, tablet when you’ve got one in your back pocket already?

We’re also seeing new consumption methods appearing; you can watch stuff online using your big-screen phone, or on a telly with a £30 Chromecast, Firestick or streamed via your phone. And many consumption applications, such as Instagram, don’t work very well on a tablet. Your phone (rightly or wrongly) is on all the time, in your pocket, and permanently connected to the Internet. That’s a touch act to follow, for both tablets and laptops.

Laptops have got thinner, lighter and so much cooler than the heavy blocks of black plastic we used last decade and often offer a better experience with a larger screen, better applications and a similar battery life. They are also cheaper.

Modern mobile computing innovation is now focussed around phone-based handheld devices, to such an extent that even in-car systems now use phones at the heart of their digital services.

The poor old tablet is being squeezed from both ends. It will likely live on as an expensive computing option for multi-platform households and corporate users. With the exception Microsoft, the tablet hardware market seems to have stagnated over the last few years and I cannot see that coming back any time soon.

7 years after the launch of the iPad, I am the only person in my company that still habitually uses tablets, everyone else uses MacBooks and Phones. The iPad suited my hyper-mobile existence and, critically, a work-life that revolves around reading and consumption. I do also own a MacBook Pro, though.

By Martin Dower

Sent from my iPad Pro 9.7