By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. September 16, 2015
Under the leadership of CEO Tim Cook, Apple has been enormously successful and enormously predictable, qualities that were clearly displayed in last week’s announcements centering on updated/next gen iPhone, Apple TV and iPad products. Not surprisingly, the latter of these has driven a great deal of speculation, mainly due to business customer-focused features once openly derided by the company’s legendary CEO Steve Jobs.
It’s a mistake to place too much emphasis on those points. After all, Jobs was brilliant at making radical course changes seem entirely plausible. In fact, given the strong headwinds that tablets, including the iPad, have experienced during the past year, it’s arguable that Jobs may have been quicker to embrace these same features than was Cook.
That’s mainly because with consumer tablet sales faltering globally, pursuing enterprise customers constitutes Apple’s main opportunity to reinvigorate iPad sales. But whether the company can actually achieve that seems extremely doubtful to me for a number of reasons.
Before jumping into those points, consider the business-focused features Apple has added to the iPad Pro:
- A larger 12.9” Retina display (compared to the iPad Air 2’s 9.7” display)
- Support for multi-tasking and Microsoft Office applications
- USB 3.0 support (via an included adapter cable)
- Up to 9-10 hours of battery life
- Optional Apple-made Pencil (stylus)
- Apple-made Smart Keyboard with kickstand/cover
There’s a great deal of irony here, both due to Jobs’ and Apple’s notable dissing of competitors’ products and the fact that the new iPad Pro owes a great debt to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. But Apple’s adoption of these design points highlights an issue that has been true of the iPad since the very beginning – that while great for media consumption, it sucks for business productivity.
That’s a fatal point for any device that hopes to be anything but a toy for trendy executives (among the iPad’s earliest and most vocal supporters). In fact, far from being the “PC-killer” that many Apple cheerleaders once opined, the iPad and some competing tablets were little more than IT tchotchkes for workers to lug around. You might use one to take simple notes during meetings or to view a slide deck but serious work was reserved for the laptop back in your office or hotel room.
In other words, the iPad Pro is such a radical departure that it qualifies Apple claims of past gen iPads being “enterprise-ready” as either deeply misinformed or outright fibs.
So will the iPad Pro deliver the success among business customers and tablet salvation the company desires? I doubt it for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, the market is fundamentally different today than it was in 2010 when the iPad was introduced. Then, Apple was rightfully lauded for and profited from developing a solution whose lightness, slim design and all-day battery life were a far cry from the stolid laptops of the time.
Today, sleek, light Wintel-based laptops and tablets are available from most every PC vendor, many with battery life as good as or better than the iPad Pro’s 9-10 hours. Plus, the multi-tasking and Microsoft Office support Apple highlighted so strongly in last week’s launch have been a fact of life on Wintel solutions (including Microsoft’s Surface Pro) for years.
In other words, instead of killing-off PCs as many claimed the iPad would, Apple instead gave competing vendors time to catch up. Offering an iPad that truly addressed the needs of business customers could have fundamentally shifted the market in Apple’s favor. Instead, the company waited over half a decade to deliver the iPad Pro.
Which brings me to my final point—that this launch suggests that Apple simply isn’t a viable computer vendor anymore, let alone a maker of business-ready solutions. Apple admitted as much in 2007 when Steve Jobs dropped the “Computer” from the company’s name to focus specifically on consumer electronics.
Businesses are among the IT market’s most cautious customers. Even a vendor as gifted and adroit as Apple will have trouble convincing them to invest in an untested platform. That’s one reason the company has inked high profile partnerships with IBM and Cisco, both of which have the enterprise cred Apple sorely lacks.
But will the iPad Pro be enough to reinvigorate tablet sales and make Apple a believable business endpoint vendor? I don’t think so. Though Apple fans who will certainly pitch the device to their employers, the need for what amounts to a premium-priced, iOS-based Surface seems pretty slim.
However, the larger issue is that rather than leading the market for business tablets, Apple is tardily attempting to catch-up. Rather than waiting for an enterprise class iPad to appear, companies and the PC vendors who understand and serve them have simply moved on.
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