After the success of the original iPad back in 2010, tech writers started buying Apple’s PR wholesale and began predicting the end of the traditional PC as we knew it. The desktop and even the laptop is obsolete, they said. Mobile is everything. In ten years time, nobody will even know what “Windows” even means outside of the glass panes in their living rooms.
Even Microsoft and its incompetent CEO at the time, Steve Ballmer, started buying what CNET was selling. The tablet is everything. Mobile good, desktop bad. Even laptops were considered hopelessly square. So they developed the PC version of Windows 8 to resemble a tablet. After all, that’s what ZDNet said that people wanted. Which went over about as well as you’d expect.
Five years on, and it seems the superficial trend-chasers who make up the tech reporting corps may have had some irrational exuberance for the tablet after all. The one dark cloud in Apple’s shining earnings report was the continued stalling of iPad sales. Windows 8, which is actually an excellent OS under the hood, was such a catastrophic failure due solely to its faux-tablet interface… that the next version, which is ditching Ballmer’s interface, is being called 10 instead of 9, just to give it more distance. And Microsoft’s Surface device is finally finding an audience — mainly because it brings in laptop, PC features that the iPad lacks. (Microsoft stock still tanked after yesterday’s earnings call, mainly as a continued aftershock from Windows 8’s flop. Bang-up job you did there, Steve!)
Live by the hype, die by the hype. The same people who doubted the iPad before its debut, who then hailed it as the second coming, are now once again preparing for its funeral arrangements.
The main reason people aren’t upgrading their existing iPads (or Android equivalents), unlike their phones, is because the tablets are falling into the same category as the TV: As long as it gets the job done, it’s good. Sure, people will eventually upgrade their TV once enough time passes or their old TV dies, but most people don’t have the obsessive urge to have their TVs keep up with the state of the art (currently 4K), let alone buy a new model every 1-2 years. It’s not like you carry a TV or iPad around wherever you go. It’s not like people will make appreciate comment if they see you with the latest model, as opposed to the one from just last year.
Also unlike the iPhone, it isn’t subsidized by your cell phone carrier, and shelling out $500 for an upgrade instead of $200 is a big difference. Even if Verizon did subsidize your iPad upgrade, you might not bother, unlike your iPhone. The upgrades to both have only been incremental for the last few years, and yet even incremental upgrades are exciting enough when your phone is by far the most important electronic device in your life. The iPad, on the other hand? Feh. Your old iPad 2 runs Netflix good enough, so who cares?
The thing is — this is a product that does have a market, although one a little more niche than CNET circa 2011 would have had you believe. We have two in our household. One, a third-generation model that the kids have taken over and which lives in a thick, rubber case; the other, an Air 2 for the grown-ups. It remains the best platform for Netflix and Amazon video, in my opinion, and is a great way to browse the internet from the bed. It can transform into a basic laptop with a Bluetooth keyboard case, letting me join all the other poseurs at the local hipster coffee shop. The kids’ iPad is the best thing to ever happen to car rides, and is undoubtedly even better for parents who spring for the 3G version. And don’t forget: the thing is light. The latest model is less than a pound. You won’t even notice the extra weight in your bag, unlike a laptop. And even the iPad is far less expensive than an Apple laptop (or on the other side of things, an Android tablet is far less expensive than even a passable Windows or Surface Pro laptop).
No, you don’t need one. You don’t need your TV, either. But you like having them around, right?
The best thing Apple and the various Android venders can do about their tablet lines is to change the narrative. Stop selling the tablet like a giant iPhone and stop expecting people to upgrade every 1-2 years. Soft-play the launch of a new model, and treat it more like how Samsung launches a new line of TVs… or how Apple launches a new model of the Macbook Air. Important enough to the small number of people needing to upgrade, yes, but not worthy of the over-the-top theatrics that have defined iPad and iPhone launches. Scale back the production runs. Tech reporters do not live in reality (especially at CNET, which exists in a different plane of existence altogether), so stop listening to what they have to say. Save the hype for the phones. When people want to get a tablet, they’ll find you. After all, they’ll want a tablet that matches their phone. As long as you do a good job sticking to the bottom line of selling phones, the tablet users will find you on their own. Just don’t think the tablet is going the way of the dinosaur. The people saying that now have a track record of being wrong about everything.