Giving Up On The iPad

I can’t find a way out of an uncomfortable conclusion. In order for the iPad to fulfill its supposed Post-PC destiny, it has to either become more like an iPhone or more like a Mac. But it can’t do either without losing its raison d’être.

Multiple Purposes, One or Two Uses

Although both the iPhone and the iPad are multi-purpose devices, it seems only the iPhone fills a multi-purpose need in customers’ lives. A typical1 customer’s iPhone is put to work in all its capacity, while her iPad is relegated to only one or two niche uses. An iPhone is a phone, a flashlight, a GPS navigator, a camera, etc. An iPad can be most of those things, but in practice it gets stuck being just one or two of them.

The two devices are nearly identical in their technical specifications. They’re constructed from similar materials. They have the same operating system, chips, and sensors. It seems they differ only in size. The canned rebuttal to this comparison is that the iPad is more than “just a big iPod”. It’s a “Post-PC” device, capable of both content creation and consumption, destined to usurp the PC as the essential tool for getting shit done.

iPad apologists are half right. The iPad isn’t a big iPod, but it isn’t more than that. In a way it’s less. Customers use it for only one or two of several niche purposes:

Every iPad has the latent capacity for many uses, but individual customers don’t have a need for all of them. The iPad over-serves the needs of its typical owner. Elementary school students don’t need surgery guides. Videographers don’t need to play Clash of Clans on the way to Grandma’s.

iPhone vs iPad vs Mac

There are exceptions, areas in which the iPad under-serves customers’ needs. The problem for the iPad is that these are the same areas in which either the iPhone or the Mac are already better-suited to the task at hand.

A Mac is Better Than an iPad for…

An iPhone is Better Than an iPad for…

So What’s the Point of the iPad?

The iPad can’t get better at these tasks without becoming either more like an iPhone or more like a Mac. For the iPad to become just as good as the iPhone, it would need to be smaller, equipped with a better camera, and sold with carrier subsidies and mobile data plans. But this would turn it into “just a big iPhone.” So this can’t be iPad’s future.

For the iPad to become just as good as the Mac, it would need to be larger, faster, equipped with expansion ports, and powered by software that supports legacy features like windowed applications and an exposed file system. But this would turn the iPad into a Macbook Pro with a touch screen and a detachable keyboard. This can’t be iPad’s future, either.

I think the future of the iPad is for it to disappear, absorbed at the low end by iPhones with large displays and at the high end by Macs running a more iOS-like flavor of OS X.

  1. Anecdotal evidence abounds, but it would be nice if there was publicly-available data to back up my claim. 

|  24 Apr 2014