No One's Buying iPads, Because iPads Are Forever

No One's Buying iPads Because iPads Are Forever

Today, Apple trotted out its quarterly earnings, as public companies do. Massive revenue! iPhone sales up! Mac sales up! iPad sales... well. OK, so not everything was a hit. But don't confuse Apple's declining tablet sales with the vanishing of the iPad. Tablets aren't dying; they just live forever.

It's not that Apple's not selling any iPads at all; it still moved 12.3 million tablets over the last quarter. But that's down 13 per cent from a year ago, an opposite trajectory to the growth that the iPhone and Mac lines experienced in the same time. It's caused a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth among Apple observers™ — what a job description! — but it doesn't mean that tablets in general or the iPad in specific are over.

Here's the iPad's real growth problem: If you bought one in the last two and a half years, you have no reason buy another one. None whatsoever. Does your iPad have a retina display? Good. You can replace it when you accidentally drop it in the toilet, and no sooner.

That's not to say iPads don't get progressively better year after year, because they do, because that's how the steady march of technology works. If you want a tablet to play with, though, there's a very good chance you've already bought one by now. One that still works just fine.

Now try to name one feature the iPad has picked up since iPad 3 that's worth the trouble of selling your old iPad to help pay for a new one. Thinner? It was already pretty damn thin. Lighter? It was already pretty damn light. Better guts? Touch ID? Your iPad is fast enough for what you need it to do. And what are the chances you'll even run into an iPad Air 2 out in the wild that will show you exactly you're missing out on?

And that's just the big iPad! The poor iPad mini has it even worse, cannibalised by the giant iPhone 6 Plus and barely updated after a year. Apple could hardly bring itself to mention the mini at its iPad event last week. Surely you can't be expected to buy it. In fact, let's assume the iPad mini is on its way out and keep this conversation to the big iPads, yeah? Good good.

It's increasingly clear that the iPad's biggest problem is its long, long refresh cycle, one without any strong call to action beyond "lazy, opulent Christmas gift". Compare that to the iPhone, which people replace every two years at most, or even the MacBook, which draws in legions of new students every year. Once you have an iPad, it's your iPad, and you either keep using it or get bored and turn it into a recipe book.

Tim Cook acknowledged as much on today's earnings call:

What you do see is that people hold onto their iPad longer than they do a phone. Because we've only been in this business for four years, we don't know what the upgrade cycle will be for people.

Here's the good news though; that's not a problem for you, and it doesn't say anything about the usefulness of tablets in general, now or in the future. I still believe that a tablet is a great device to have in the house; I use mine to watch movies when I travel or comic books in bed, and there's no device that's better at either of those things. I think it's still a better second screen than a laptop can be, and a much more affordable outside of a bulky Chromebook.

All of which is to say that the rumours of the iPad's demise have been greatly exaggerated. If anything, the biggest knock against the iPad is that it has staying power. There's an endless parade of dead gadgets that would have given anything for that to be their biggest problem.

Picture: Michael Hession


Comments

    About 6 months ago I started wondering why I have an iPad. Sure its nice to brows the internet on but I don't really play games. Then a mate told me to pay $8 and download a app called File browser. This gave the option to secure and link my drop box, box, Sky drive and google drive as well as connect to my time capt, my PC or the office NAS, all over wireless, all in one place. It uses a great folder structure and supported by 3rd part apps for docs and able to stream video from any of those source, 4G or wireless. Now I find myself using the iPad more.

    I guess its how you use it that will determine how long you keep it, standard seems to be 3 years but you use it for more you can upgrade yearly.

    I buy out my telstra device every year and sell last years for the exact buy out price. Sure I renew my contract but I need the value my contract gives me and I deduct it from tax. So in reality I get a new iPad every year (iPhone too) for free.

    When using my iPad I always try and unlock it with the home button, thinking its got a finger print scanner. So would like that function on the iPad

      so basically you didn't use your ipad until you could use it like a computer? and even then not so much?

        Sure, but he upgrades it faithfully every year, in the mistaken belief that he's not actually paying for it. This guy is a poster-boy Apple customer - utterly clueless.

      so basically you didnt start using your ipad until someone wrote a program that works natively in android?

      "I deduct it from tax. So in reality I get a new iPad every year (iPhone too) for free." If you believe that, you're a complete moron. You deduct it from your taxable income, not your tax, so it just means you are not paying tax on it. Unless you are earning more than $180,000 a year (which seems unlikely), at best you are getting about one-third off. If you earn less than $37,000, which seems far more likely to me, you won't even be saving 10%.

      Hmm... almost a sales pitch from a Telstra rep with too many iPads in stock...

    Still on iPad 2. Haven't hit anything that I can't do on it without upgrading. Wish the same could be said for my laptop. Just as old but unbelievably slow now...

      I'm not a fan of Apple devices but I brought an iPad 2 for my sister and for whatever flaws it has compared to a newer iPad it's still massive overkill for everything she does with it. General purpose tablet use just isn't very demanding.

      Wait for the Core M Windows tablets in 2015, they will truly make iPads DIE forever, together with your aging laptop.

        Well, if Windows had a decent app store, then perhaps... otherwise the iPad (and Android, even) will always have a one-up over Windows in the tablet industry.

          I have both, ipad and a windows 8 tablet.
          nothing wrong with the windows app store offerings.

            Personally I find it's improved a bit, but it's still got a long way to go compared to being up to scratch with iOS and Android. It's definitely still considered the third wheel by developers.

              The powerful core M windows tablet is going to be the all in one device. It docks as desktop PC, replaces laptop, and of cause replaces android tablet. iPad is just a toy, can't even compete an android tablet in terms of functionality.

              On a windows tablet, you already have everything you need for data consumption. Better browsers, better video/music players, better reading tools. What else do you need? Besides, there are so many great titles of PC games you can play when you connect joystick/mouse/keyboard inputs and this is a very very uncomfortable missing feature that makes you hate your android tablets/iPads.

          Pretty common quote there... but I gotta wonder, what bloody apps are people looking for on the Windows app store? While there may not be the exact same app that you had in an iDevice, that does not make a bad app store.

            Plus since Windows RT has been ditched, all Windows tablets have the extra of running desktop programs, which allows superior versions of Hearthstone, Civ, Halo Spartan Assault and XCOM (all these games natively support touch on their Windows versions) compared to what is available on the App Store, with addition of using Xbox controllers or KB/M when available

              It gets even better when you look at the VST plugins themselves:

              iOS - 9
              Android - 3
              Windows - 5,929

              That's getting close to three orders of magnitude! Who needs an app store when you can have all that!?!

              Since when? My grandmother's Surface RT still can't run any non-Store apps.

          swanny, a Windows tablet doesn't need apps, it runs proper software like a proper computer. If you believe what you've said, then a Windows tablet will always beat both iOS and Android because there are several orders of magnitude more software available for Windows than everything else put together. So much, in fact, that it would be impossible to count it all. For example, here is how many apps/applications there are on each platform that can host VST plugins (musical instruments and effects):

          iOS - 3
          Android - 0
          Windows - 293
          (Figures from the KVR Audio database.)

          That's two orders of magnitude more software. Even Linux does better with 22 (OS X tops out at 173). That means I can doodle with musical ideas on my Windows tablet on a train or bus using exactly the same software I will use to produce and master an album for CD release.

            Where does Windows RT stand in all this though?

      you know why? because its basically a giant ipod touch

      which was useless to begin with

      a massive music player with video and touch screen capabilities and childish games

    The problem is a *lot* of schools and other organisations bought first and second gen iPads, they are still supported by Apple and developers still consider the aging device. I know plenty of old couples and families that have 1st gens that will likely only upgrade when the thing physically breaks, which, due to that thick chassis, might not be for a long time...

      Why is this a problem?

        Because some developers would love to move on in tech but just can't due to corporate demand for support. The iPad 1st gen is rubbish for pretty much everything except watching videos and listening to music right now. The web browser is under powered and useless for sites like Gizmodo, but most wont upgrade cause "It still works!". I fear an IE6 all over again...

          I think you're ignoring the part where they help kids learn. One huge upgrade and those kids can't anymore. Would developers moving on because they're anxious actually benefit the consumer in any way? (That doesn't just mean abstract things they'll never engage in, real benefits)

            Oh no believe me I know how they help kids. I work in IT support with special needs students and they *love* the 1st gen iPads, absolutely love them. In an ideal world though Apple would leave the final update to those iPads with as little system overhead as possible, just so those tiny, meek components can do the best they can.

          Don't worry, when the battery goes on a first series, (like mine did) it's not worth replacing. Also iOS upgrades won't last, as on my iPod, so if you want the new bits, you will need to upgrade

    a lot of people bought them coz they liked the idea of tablet, a lot of people found out that they actually dont need one...

      This is why I have not bought my nagging fiance one as yet.

      haha I know, I have a 2013 nexus 7, great tablet, I use it when my phone is charging and when I occasionally fly somewhere

      they dont need one because its mostly useless

      A microsoft surface on the other hand.....you would need, otherwise itd be like saying you dont need a computer

    I'm only JUST considering upgrading my iPad 2 now, and mainly just for a retina display as I'm doing more reading on it now than I used to. On that note, I'm thinking of getting the Air (not the Air 2) just to save the money, not enough compelling stuff on it to make it worthwhile for me.

      Here you go. refurbed iPad Air 32Gb for $10 bucks less than a new iPad air 16Gb, or $130 less than a 16Gb iPad Air 2 with 16Gb:

      http://store.apple.com/au/product/FD786X/A

      The only way you wouldn't know these are brand new is that the packaging states 'Apple Certified Refurbished Product' in tiny print, otherwise they are exactly the same (including warranty).

    I still have a Nexus 7 from 2012 I use almost everyday. Until google stop updating it, it doesn't *need* to be replaced, but the new 13" Lenovo tablet is very tempting!

    *edit* Plus notice how Sony haven't announced any update to the Xperia Tablet Z2 yet? There's a reason for that. The current model is good enough to just go on selling.

    Last edited 21/10/14 3:08 pm

      They have updated it dude, it's called the Z3 :)

        Nothin on the sony site, Z3 compact soon, but Z2 is current.

        As far as a 'full sized' Sony tablet is concerned, the Z2 is still the flagship. The Z3 Compact Tablet is out but it's 8 inch. There is no 'full sized' 10 inch tablet announced to date.

        In saying that I've got a Z2 Tablet and highly doubt I'd need to upgrade anytime soon at all.

    The iPad was always going to have a longer refresh cycle than the iPhone since the business models drastically different. As noted in the article, most iPhones are attached to 24 month contracts that see users being issued a new handset on renewal. iPads on the other hand are bought outright and in conjunction with the modest advancements that each year brings, means there never was going to be that same 12 - 24 month refresh cycle.

    To make the gap smaller there'd probably need to be a surge of sales through Telcos, which frankly won't happen with mobile plans being typically charged on a per a sim card basis as opposed to per a user. Most people would probably prefer to tether their iPhone and buy an iPad outright than take out two mobile plans. Also, they need a killer app that isn't web browsing, reading books and listening to music that'd cause people to need to upgrade. That might be a bit hard to achieve at a mass volume given the wide number of use cases.

      They're banking on gaming. The processor improvements have been incremental, but the graphics performance improvements are phenomenal.

      Apart from the iPad 1 where users were shafted, the iPad 2 can do everything that the iPad Air can do if you aren't a gamer. Companies are moving to 48 month leases for computers, and the iPad is expected to last a students schooling, K-7 or whatever. There isn't much more you need a mobile internet device to do.

      Batteries have improved such that one can reasonably expect a battery to last 48 months and still be good. There is no reason why Apple shouldn't support the iPad 2 as long as the hardware is still good and in use to stem the tide of e-waste. The iPad 2 is likely tied up in a lot of corporate support agreements where companies bought thousands of them (schools, Qantas, etc...)

    I find it abit strange that people's tables are lasting so long. Maybe they dont use them much?

    I find personally that I change my phone every two years because the battery has nearly kicked it in. I keep telling myself ill get off the contract and keep the same phone but the battery is always the deal breaker by the two year mark. Thats why I find it strange that tablets are lasting so long. I had iPad 2 but i never use it anymore (I prefer my laptop) and that battery is pretty rubbish and i have to keep it plugged in alot! which kind defeats the purpose of tablet for me.

    I think people are starting to realize the limitation of tablets so maybe there going back to laptops? Nothing beats a fully fledged OS.

    Last edited 21/10/14 3:14 pm

      I find it abit strange that people's tables are lasting so long. Maybe they dont use them much?
      I love using my table every day, for sitting down at and eating, talking, reading newspapers and sometimes even doing work on the laptop. Plus who needs to buy a new table every couple of years anyway?

    Doesn't this kind of put to rest the whole "Planned Obsolescence" bullshit that everyone is always accusing Apple of?

    iPad 2 runs current iOS 8 and everyone is saying that they see no reason to upgrade because it can still do everything they want.

    Those people who are upgrading are doing it for the "nice to have" features - like Retina or TouchID - not because the device is no longer fit for purpose..

      Doesn't this kind of put to rest the whole "Planned Obsolescence" bullshit that everyone is always accusing Apple of?
      This has been much less obvious once Apple started fragmenting the devices with screen resolutions and processing power.
      It's also been interesting to see how minimal the updates are each generation.
      I bought the ipad air and sold my ipad with retina because of the more appealing weight and reduced bezel. Will I buy another one just to get touch ID and maybe NFC? Nope. I'm sure as hell not breaking out a 10" tablet to pay for lunch.
      I'm unlikely to buy a new one until there are new IOS features that I can't do without (unlikely) or until the apps and games no longer support it (again, unlikely)

      Except now that they've acknowledged it, I have my concerns that updates will start nerfing things/performance, etc.

    Well, I've ordered an Air 2 because my 4+ year old iPad 2 is actually dying.

    It was always going to come to a bit of a halt regardless of the category. When I watch Apple keynotes these days, it almost makes me want to throw up from just hearing the same things over and over again.. faster, better, screen and camera more pixels... these bastards have been going by that whole why be you when you can be new philosophy for far too long... they need to start really providing some proper facelifts and giving more for les... it is so dumb how there has been so many generations of the same product, yet there has not really been anything.. well, New! They are just getting more and more HD bla bla blaaaaaaaa... start working on holograms and projected augmented reality already... Why should the consumer fork out money every two years to upgrade when not needed... it's just pure dumb. I only upgrade to the bottom shelf of each category every time I upgrade, because the top shelf is usually twice the price and hardly worth a real difference for the the everyday computer! :P

    Now try to name one feature the iPad has picked up since iPad 3 that’s worth the trouble of selling your old iPad to help pay for a new one. Thinner? It was already pretty damn thin. Lighter? It was already pretty damn light.

    The iPad 3 is pretty heavy.. and isn't really that thin. My iPad 2 is lighter and thinner. So you kinda need the iPad Air if you want thin, light and a retina display. Otherwise the iPad 2 is still quite good to use.
    I guess the lightning port could be a reason if people want to use their iPads with new docks/speakers that they use with their newer Iphone.

    I use mine to watch movies when I travel or comic books in bed, and there’s no device that’s better at either of those things

    Apart from maybe actual comic books.

    Isn't it kinda sad how tech journalists jump at the chance to make excuses for Apple but when PC sales show decline they are all too quick to pronounce the "death of the PC" and begin dancing on its grave. The truth is that tablet are having the same problems as PCs - they are good enough now that very few users feel the need to upgrade every time a new generation comes out. The fact that the iPad has been so successful is proof of this.

    When you look at the changes from iPad to iPad the reasons to upgrade have been getting less and less from model to model. I am guessing for many the iPad Air 2 will be their last iPad.

    The only major innovations I can think off are:

    - significantly increased battery power while reducing the weight.
    - edge to edge screen
    - 5G mobile connectivity
    - faster WiFi... although I think AC is plenty fast enough for what you do with an iPad.

    Other than that I can't see a compelling reason to really upgrade and would those features really be that great to warrant the extra expense.

    On the plus side iPad resale values have stayed relatively high especially because Apple supports devices all the way back to the iPad 2.

    The first time I used a iPad it didn't take very long for my arms to get tiered and the next thing I knew I was hunched over it with it lying on my lap. I decided to give it back before my neck and back started to ache. I personally prefer a desk, a screen, a good chair and a keyboard and mouse.

    True!

    But also, it's because people don't have enough money to catch up with their upgrades every year.

    If you've bought one with retina display, that's most likely gonna cost you your whole weeks rent.
    Mathematically speaking; John makes $3500 a month, weekly rent is = $500, 4 weeks rent is $2000.

    John only has $1500 left. He needs to spend it on gas, bills, food, entertainment with friends. He might have just enough to buy an iPad.

    If he spends all his savings on one, he will be PHUCKED for the entire week.

    I like the iPad mini wifi, it is a good size for the train and is the reason why I don't need an iPhone 6+

    Well as long as it can run Candy Crush and allow me to browse the web I am happy. The reality is that as a consumption device it is fine (iPad Air) and I see no reason to upgrade. Even my kids who use their early iPads for high school say the same.

    We are in constant upgrades on our home PC for gaming and large work projects but alas not the tablet.

    totally agree with this article, we had an Ipad 2 for ages and only replaced it because it physically broke earlier this year. Compare that with our phones which we upgrade every 1 to 2 years.

    I think the issue is that the practical uses of most tablets are either to watch movies/youtube ect.... do some web surfing and maybe play a few games and even the old 1st gen ipads are more than capable of doing this so for the average user there is no reason to upgrade.

    A tablet is often something that is used less, carried around less, and often shared (especially if youre married or living with your partner). You often only need one as its not often that two people need it at the same time. And for the simple things like media consumption every now and then (of which a lot of can be done on smartphones) who needs to update their tablet every year or two? Phones are a more personal device for each individual so they will be upgraded every year or two, more often than tablets at least. While the iPad will continue to sell, its the iPad Mini which I think Apple will abandon by the end of 2015.

    I actually won my iPad, it's an iPad 3 (the first 4G one that's incompatible with Australia's 4G network and was superseded a few months later) and it was within a month of the thing being released in Australia. I honestly have no idea how long it's been around the house. Maybe 2 years? 2 and a half? I was thinking of replacing it shortly but it's low on the priority list because the one we have works fine for casual internet browsing, reddit apps, ebooks, etc. I can even stream movies from my Ultraviolet collection (such as it is).

    I would definitely have bought a tablet by now if I didn't win the iPad but since I did I'm in no hurry to update it.

    When it's obsolete or simply dies I might replace it. If I ever have a genuine need for a second one, I'll buy a second one - but this would likely only be for business purposes and I would expect my employer to at least subsidise the data costs.

    Last edited 23/10/14 10:41 am

    I have a tablet (android) that I've had for about 3 years. Super nice metal finish, great AMOLED screen, compact size 7.7,

    I literally only use it when I travel for watching videos. That is all. Otherwise it sits somewhere unused.

    So, people are buying gadgets and continue using them until they are actually broken or seriously outmoded, rather than getting a new one every year.

    THE DEATH OF CAPITALISM IS AT HAND!!

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