Apple’s iPad has peaked. Where’s the innovation?


Which direction is the iPad heading? Not as impressive as in the past. (Noah Berger/Bloomberg)

The unveiling of the new iPad Air and new iPad Mini at Apple’s special event Tuesday was everything you’d expect – full of superlatives from the Apple management team about how the new iPad Air is the thinnest, lightest full-size tablet on the market and all the trademark touches from a splashy new Apple product launch. However, once you get past the marketing misdirection play — Apple’s use of “Air” to signify something radically new in the tablet market — you are left with the sinking feeling that the market for the iPad has finally peaked.

There’s no longer the big “wow” factor of buying something radically different from Apple

The biggest reason the market for the iPad has peaked is that Apple has stopped selling the sizzle, and is now selling the steak. Yes, the WiFi is faster and the battery life is longer. But those are incremental changes. People bought their first iPad (and upgraded) because they had to have one, not because it made rational sense — it was a fundamentally new way of computing. As soon as the customer starts making the following logical calculation in his or her head – “is it worth X dollars to get a device half-a-pound lighter” – you’ve lost a customer.

The tablet market is facing a saturation point.

It’s not Apple’s fault, it’s a simple matter of demographics. Put another way, most everyone who wants a tablet probably already has one, so it’s getting progressively more difficult to convince people to go out and buy a new one if their old tablet works perfectly fine. Tablets are a maturing market – just about the only place to pick up new growth is in emerging markets, where customers are more price sensitive.

 The rest of the market appears to be catching up in terms of innovation.

On the day before Apple unveiled its new iPad, both Nokia and Microsoft unveiled new tablet updates designed to be iPad alternatives. And weeks before that, Amazon unveiled its new Kindle Fire HDX with Mayday technology – a technology so cool that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos couldn’t stop giggling about it. Maybe that’s why Apple is starting to lose market share to the tablet upstarts – they are starting to introduce the types of features Apple once did.

The iPad has lost its veneer of cool.

The likes of Samsung, Amazon and Google have been steadily chipping away at Apple’s reputation for years, and now all of the other tablet players are jumping in. No wonder Apple’s iPad sales may actually fall on a year-over-year basis and why it’s becoming so hard to get really amped up for the next big iPad launch.

And that last factor is probably the most dangerous of all. Apple is smart enough to find new markets for its products, to come up with new pricing strategies and to come up with a few new innovations every year or so to appeal to the tech and design crowd, but you can’t go out and buy “cool” or create “cool” in the research and development lab – you have to cultivate it and catch the market zeitgeist at just the right time. The iPad Mini last year was an inspired product launch, and may have postponed the inevitable. It’s been three and a half years since the sensational launch of the original iPad in 2010, and we’re now getting the sense that the Air has started to leak out of Apple’s tires.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.
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Matt McFarland | October 22, 2013