Currently, the ever-turning Apple rumor-mill is predicting that the event scheduled for tomorrow will publicize details of a new iPad Air, an updated iPad Mini and a new 12.9-inch-screen iPad ‘Pro’.
The event – to be held in Apple’s smaller and less prestigious Town Hall Auditorium – will mark another iteration, rather than a revolution, in iPad technology. The biggest changes involve the introduction of TouchID, a fingerprint recognition system already available on iPhones, and an upgrade to the A8 processor in order to provide increased performance and battery life.
But will these improvements re-energize consumer demand for the iPad? GlobalWebIndex’s research shows that one third of internet users are now getting online using a tablet device but that the rate of growth has been slowing for the last few quarters. So, while numbers are bound to continue creeping upwards gently over the next few months and years, the boom days are over.
Clearly, commenters who once predicted that the tablet would usurp the dominant role held by PCs were misguided. Although the future lies in a multi-device approach to using the internet, it’s now mobiles which are challenging for prominence the most strongly.
So why are tablets floundering? In short, the early adopters of tablets – the young, affluent tech pioneers that helped iPads explode onto the market – have discovered the limits of tablet functionality and are losing interest. Although tablet users continue to watch films and TV on tablets, activities such as instant messaging, commenting and micro-blogging are migrating to their perhaps more natural home on mobiles.
What’s more, tablet use is still low among 16-24s, usually new tech adopters but here priced out of the market and turning instead to mobiles. Without these young converts, the future of iPads is uncertain.
Over the last few years, Apple has also had to deal with the rise of Android OS tablets. iPads may be the first image that comes to mind when discussing tablets but it is Android machines that dominate the global market. In 2011, the year of the iPad 2, Apple was easily outselling its rivals but the tables have now turned. Across the 32 countries in which GlobalWebIndex conducts research, more than half of the tablet audience are now using Android OS; iPads pick up a 39% market share.
Increasingly, Apple is also having to compete with itself. The launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, with a 5.5-inch screen, has finally catapulted the company into the ‘phablet’ category but might well cannibalize sales of the iPad Mini (with its 7.9-inch screen). Similarly, although initial sales of the 6 Plus have been healthy, it has not brought Apple a cohort of new customers; so many of the early adopters of a new iPhone are existing Apple customers keen to upgrade to the latest model.
In this context, Apple’s rumored plans for an iPad Pro, boasting a 12.9-inch screen and aimed squarely at professionals, perhaps indicates its acceptance of the need to focus on its core audience. Almost half of iPad users are managers and more than a third are in the top income quartile.
Apple may be struggling to attract new iPad users but it can still rely on an affluent customer base to drive sales.