No place for the iPad?

iPad desk

Yesterday, Apple released its second quarter earnings, blowing away most analysts’ predictions with record, unprecedented iPhone sales. News about the iPad was less stellar, however. Year-over-year, sales of Apple’s tablet continue to decline: from 19.5 million sold in Q2 2013 to 16.4 million in Q2 2014 to 12.6 million this past quarter.

Still, Apple CEO Tim Cook waxed optimistic about the iPad during the earnings call:

When you look at the underlying data, it makes you feel a lot better than the sales do. Things like first-time buyer rates; the latest numbers from the U.S. are like around 40 percent, and when you look at China, they’re almost 70 percent. These numbers are not numbers you would get if the market were saturated.[1]

Cook also cited the iPad’s stellar “customer sat” numbers, along with its potential for growth in the enterprise.

No one’s in a better position to predict the iPad’s future than Tim Cook. He has all the data, and he’s widely-acknowledged as an operations genius. Still, sales are obviously a critically important metric. The simple truth? The iPad—along with entire tablet market—has stalled. Fewer and fewer iPads are being sold, when the world had supposedly entered the “post-PC” era. That drop-off matters. It means something.

Tellingly, Cook acknowledged that the success of Apple’s other products has contributed to the iPad’s downturn. “We’re clearly seeing cannibalization from iPhone and, on the other side, from the Mac,” he confessed.[1]

Here’s the way I’d frame that: the iPad has literally lost its place in users’ lives. It’s not the best computer for any context.

On the one hand, I can use the tablet as a PC replacement. Pair it with a wireless keyboard, and it makes a servicable blogging or email machine. But a laptop does that job faster, more comfortably and more efficiently.

Similarly, while I could use the iPad on the couch or in bed, the smartphone’s a better fit for that use case. When I’m reclining, I need a light, one-handable device; the iPad’s simply too bulky to hold while lying down. And as smartphones have grown in size, they’ve minimized the iPad’s one major advantage: screen size.

So the iPad’s being squeezed on both ends: traditional PCs make better workhorses, and large-screened smartphones make better casual handhelds. Unless something changes dramatically, I can’t justify upgrading my iPad Air 2 when it reaches the end of its life. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an amazing machine—a marvel, like something straight out of science fiction.

But I almost never use it.

  1. Tim Cook, in Apple’s Q2 2015 earnings call. Transcribed by Jason Snell.