This Here iPad Sales Thing

Looking into iPad sales numbers and trying not to bore myself.

Look, I don’t know why iPad sales are trending down, you don’t know why they are, and actually no one knows why they are. You know how I know that? Because even Apple doesn’t know why, and they have the biggest motivation of anyone to figure out why.

Let’s play a simple game:

  • What’s the best tablet you can buy? iPad.
  • What’s the computer best suited for the average American? iPad.

Those two questions are so easy to answer that even the most staunch Mac believer will agree: most people probably are best off with a tablet and the iPad is easily the best tablet. That’s not me making an argument for the iPad, or against the Mac — it’s just that most Americans want something to buy things and look at Facebook while at home and, hey, it turns out the iPad is pretty fucking good at that.

Reminds me of this from Rob Rhyne:

If you prefer a cleaner experience, and don’t need to customize your machine heavily or build your own utilities, then an iPad is an excellent primary computer. It is arguably the best realization of a general purpose computer, to date.

When you just need a device to do a thing and that thing can be done on an iPad — the iPad really is the best.

Even so, we (the royal we) don’t know why sales are slumping, but ideas abound.

  • It’s just not that well liked.
  • It doesn’t do what it needs to do.
  • The replacement cycle is longer than expected.
  • Phones are getting better.
  • People still want “real computers”
  • There’s no thing X which people are used to and see as necessary.

Are old iPads still useable, sure if by old you mean iPad Air, Mini 2 or newer. But if by old you mean iPad 2/3/4 then HAHAHAHA those are piles of shit these days.

All of this stuff is what makes it nearly impossible to figure out why iPad sales are declining. I do want to take a stab at my theory on this, so here’s my list from most impactful to the least, of why I think iPad sales continue to decline:

  1. A lot of the market which would be well suited to an iPad simply use their phones instead. It’s not even that they are buying Macs, they are just using their phones because their phone is already a costly device for them, and it is what they are used to. I don’t think it has nearly as much to do with screen size as it does convenience of the device always with them. How many times have you, yourself, sat down on the couch and wanted to do a computing activity and just decided to use your phone instead of go find a Mac or iPad? Probably more times than you want to admit.
  2. Apple has done a truly shit job at marketing the iPad. The iPhone is positioned, marketed, and supported by Apple extremely well. The Mac also has decent support and marketing behind it — Apple is quick to show off and hammer you with the new stuff. But they only push new iPads for a short while and then step away. There’s no good marketing from Apple on the iPad and no positioning at all. The marketing, from launch day to now, has always been like “we think this is great, you’ll like it, try it”. Whereas with iPhone Apple will constantly show you why it is great, instead of just saying it is great. Big difference for consumers.
  3. Apple has done nothing to remove the notion that the iPad is not a “real computer”, and this ties in with marketing, but also goes deeper. With the iPhone people were worried that it would cannibalize iPod sales, and it did, and Apple pushed it to. It was in Apple’s benefit to let the iPhone tear apart the iPod, because it was and is the better device. Apple said the iPad may cannibalize Mac sales, but has never actively let it. This is more than just marketing, why not bring feature parity to the Pages/Numbers/Keynote suite? The only reason you don’t do that, is because you still want to sell a Mac. Flat out, that’s why. Apple may say they aren’t worried about iPad sales cannibalizing Mac sales, but they sure act like they are afraid of it. Honestly, this wasn’t so when Jobs was still around — and I loathe to belabor that point. So allow me to move on.
  4. Third Party developers follow Apple’s lead and Apple is leading the March to the iPhone, not the iPad. Why would app makers have feature parity on iPad apps, when even Apple doesn’t? Why would developers go iPad first, when Apple rarely does (is Swift playgrounds the only exception to that?).

This is a very complex problem, and I am certainly not spot on here. But this is simply not a one issue problem. This is a multi-faceted problem, but I don’t think any of it spells doom for the device.

Not yet at least. Talk to me again after WWDC 2017.


But none of this matters. It doesn’t matter because the iPad is still a far better primary computer for most people than a Mac. Regardless of what sales numbers come in at.

And everyone said the exact same thing when the iPhone didn’t meet expectations, or the Mac for that matter — these devices are still class leading, right?

The fact of the matter is that even with declining sales, Apple is still selling a shit load of iPads. They are still being talked about and used. Change takes time and even longer when it’s not the nerds, but the general consumer you need to convince.

There simply are not many nerds who can use only an iPad (yes, I said that, and it’s true — I’ve never argued otherwise). And that makes the argument harder for the general consumer to adopt the iPad as their only computer, because at the end of the day consumers buy what they think is best, to the extent they can afford it. That’s the genius with iPhone: pick a size and price point — they are all the same and you get what everyone else gets.

But the argument changes for iPad, because the “pros” use a Mac, so don’t I want what a Pro uses?

If not, why not?

And the lack of a good answer from Apple on that front, really muddies the water. Consumers always understood the tradeoff between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro — one costs a shit load more money and is “faster”. Makes sense, buy as much Mac as you can afford. But the argument for an iPad over a MacBook is harder, because it’s not an argument you define over specs — it’s more of a lifestyle argument than anything else.

Not to deviate too far, but I think it’s the same problem we will face with self-driving cars, and consumers accepting those.

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