These past days many sources I usually read have been quoting an interesting piece by Neil Cybart, Finding iPad’s Future. I have read it with difficulty, and with mixed reactions at every paragraph, a mixture of agreement and disagreement that I find hard to disentangle. So I’ll just use the following quote as a pretext to share a few thoughts.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a long upgrade cycle, as seen with the Mac, which continues to report solid sales momentum, the reasoning behind holding on to tablets for years is much more troubling. There are currently approximately 3 million units of the original iPad still in use, or 20% of the devices Apple sold. For the iPad 2, it is possible that close to 60% of the units Apple sold are still being used. These two devices are not superior tablets. The initial iPad lacks a camera, while the iPad 2 has a mediocre camera. When compared to the latest iPads, these first two iPads are simply inferior tablets with slow processors, heavy form factors, and inferior screens. But none of that matters with owners. This is problematic and quite concerning, suggesting that many of these tablets are just being used for basic consumption tasks like video and web surfing and not for the productivity and content creation tools that Apple has been marketing.
- I really don’t get what the problem is with a device that doesn’t drive you to purchase a new model every year. Of course, from today’s tech industry standpoint, products with long upgrade cycles are problematic — fewer units are sold, and sales trends may resemble those of the iPad. But from a consumer’s standpoint, a product that turns out to be built to last is really great — thus the long upgrade cycle of the iPad is actually a big plus, not a downside.
- I’m not sure I agree with Cybart’s deduction, that people still using older iPads must be using them ‘for basic consumption tasks’. Editing photos, painting, writing or composing music are all creative tasks that can be done with an original iPad or an iPad 2. My 80-something father-in-law, before his health worsened, was happily creating beautiful digital paintings using ArtRage on an original iPad. Sure, it’s cooler to use a more modern iPad for such tasks, but there are users (perhaps the not so tech-savvy bunch, and/or those on a tight budget) who are happy enough with their current model, and will upgrade only when the hardware starts failing or being disappointing in a way or another. Remember that there are a lot of non-nerds for whom faster graphics or a faster processors aren’t critical features demanding frequent upgrades. Even I — who am a bit of a nerd and certainly a so-called ‘power user’ — am not considering upgrading my iPad 3 anytime soon. It still works great and tackles everything I throw at it; and I use it both for consumption and creation. A thinner, faster iPad would be nice to have, but at this point it would be more like a luxury for me than something I have to buy because my iPad has stopped being useful or responsive enough to do the tasks I need it to do. (And in fact I’m planning to upgrade my 2009 Mac first.)
- For the sake of the argument, let’s concede that these older iPads are “just being used for basic consumption tasks like video and web surfing and not for the productivity and content creation tools that Apple has been marketing” — Well, what’s wrong with that? I don’t see this as something “problematic and quite concerning”. The iPad’s target audience is immense and the most varied. The latest iPad models are being purchased by people who are new to the iPad or who had very old models and the need and means to upgrade them; the long upgrade cycle means that people with third- or fourth-generation iPads still own a very capable device and are not interested in upgrading it for the moment. Or they can’t justify the expense. Et cetera, et cetera. The way I see it, every iPad owner is using their iPad in different ways and at different levels, from basic consumption to sophisticated creation, and I know that’s anecdotical, but all the people I know — and a generous sample I interviewed a couple of years ago — are happy with their device and don’t even think or care about all this speculation about ‘how the iPad is doing’ or ‘where the iPad is going’ that cyclically hits the tech pundit sphere.