Even as tablet sales crater, Apple CEO Tim Cook has remained resolute in pitching the iPad. True, despite years of declines, the iPad managed to grow sales again, bumping up 15% in the last year, taking Apple's global tablet market share to 55% (from 46% a year ago). Being the biggest player in a shrinking market may not seem like much, unless Jean-Louis Gassée is correct, and there's more to the iPad than a "tweener" product meant to fill the gap between smartphones and PCs.
As Gassée uncovered in a recent post, it could well be that Apple is quietly positioning the iPad to be the next personal computer.
It started with a file system
As Gassée highlighted in his post, without any fanfare Apple has been remaking the iPad into a full-fledged computer, starting with the innards: "Last week, Apple updated all of its operating systems, from macOS to watchOS. That there were no glitches is remarkable enough, but what makes the seamless conversion really remarkable is that the iOS file system was converted to the more modern Apple File System a.k.a. APFS."
This is significant for two reasons. As the one-time Apple executive noted, APFS is "a file system that improves storage management, encryption, reliability, and performance." In other words, it's a significant performance boost for the iOS file system.
SEE: Yes, iPad Pro is ready to be your work machine—with one baffling exception (TechRepublic)
This is predominately interesting, however, for a second reason: Such changes allow iOS to act more like macOS. Or, rather, allow iOS to replace macOS.
With this in mind, Gassée said, the future starts to sort itself out:
This leads us to an easy guess for future iPad Pros. We're likely to see linear hardware and software improvements (keyboard, screen, stylus, more independent windows...), plus others we can't think of immersed, as we often are, in derivative thought. All will make the Pros more pro: Powerful enough of take business away from the Mac (and Windows PCs). I like my MacBook, but can see an iPad Pro on my lap and desk in a not-too-distant future.
For those of us who have lamented the demise of the MacBook Air and haven't quite grown to love the MacBook, not to worry: The iPad may be destined to replace both. Already, Apple is trying to get consumers used to a more iPad-like Mac experience, with the TouchBar (I don't hate it anymore), a first inkling of this shift. The real movement, however, is almost certainly what Gassée predicts: "more muscular iPads taking business away from conventional PCs."
What would Jobs do?
This may seem a bit crazy, given that Mac revenue blossomed 7% even as the global PC market shrank a further 4% year-over-year. But, Apple isn't aiming for the market in 2018, but rather for a long life for the iPad/Mac well beyond 2018, even as iPhone sales stall.
Apple is also ensuring that if anyone is going to cannibalize its businesses, Apple's going to be the one doing it. This is "by design" the core Apple philosophy, as Apple exec Phil Schiller once said. Tim Cook has also been emphatic on this point, arguing that if Apple held back from potentially cannibalizing its products, "somebody else will just cannibalize it, and so we never fear [cannibalization]. We know that iPhone has cannibalized some iPod business. It doesn't worry us, but it's done that. We know that iPad will cannibalize some Macs. That doesn't worry us."
No, the real worry is that Apple won't invent the future, which is exactly what it's trying to do with an iPad-turned-PC. Apple is playing by its own rules, and those rules are "cannibalize or be cannibalized."
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- Yes, iPad Pro is ready to be your work machine—with one baffling exception (TechRepublic)
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- Apple iOS 11 public beta: Follow these steps to install it on iPad and iPhone (TechRepublic)
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.