No more speed bumps: How Apple can fix the iPad

What needs to be done to restore the iPad to its former glory?

What needs to be done to restore the iPad to its former glory?

With all the excited chatter about the iPhone 6 and the iWatch, the iPad is starting to look like a relic from the past — and the sales back this up.

Across the board, tablet sales have flatlined. On the back of another lower-than-expected tablet quarter, research firm IDC recently slashed its 2014 forecast for worldwide tablet shipments from 260.9 million units all the way back to 233.1 million. With Apple’s leading position in the market, even Tim Cook has had to admit that this has represents a bit of what he calls a “speed bump”.

The iPad took a crack at disrupting classrooms, cash registers, hospitals and airplane cockpits, but sales nonetheless slumped 10 percent from the same quarter last year. Simply put, Apple’s once white-hot tablet brand has cooled off. Relegated to a second-tier product, it just doesn’t seem as exciting any more.

“I own an iPhone, a Mac and an iPad, and out of these I use the iPad the least,” says Michael Grothaus, a former Apple employee, and the entrepreneur behind SITU, an iPad-enabled set of smart kitchen scales. “It occupies a bit of a no man’s land. As much as I love Apple products, recently I’ve been looking around at other tablets on the market to see what’s out there.”

Here’s what the top developers we talked to said might make the iPad a game changer again.

A Bigger Screen And Something To Run On It

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest request was for a larger display. As the iPhone gets larger, sales of the iPad mini in particular are likely to fall, as Apple’s phablet cannibalizes the company’s smallest tablet. This has already been seen with Microsoft’s Surface Mini, which Redmond reportedly put on ice based on their fear of of the iPhone 6.

Jimmy Kimmel recently parodied the idea of a larger iPad on his show, while also admitting he'd buy it in a heartbeat.

Jimmy Kimmel recently parodied the idea of a larger iPad on his show, while also admitting he’d buy it in a heartbeat.

A bigger screen is all well and good, of course, but it needs to run something. Here Apple should embrace productivity apps, to use the iPad as part of a serious enterprise push to get Apple into businesses. Particularly this year, we’ve seen a number of impressive productivity uses of the iPad, such as the fact that Bentley’s latest ad was edited using the device.

“In terms of music and the DJ world, we’re already seeing a shift from laptops towards iPads,” says Karim Morsy, CEO and co-founder of Algoriddim, the devs behind the iOS/Mac djay and vjay apps, which has seen more than 10 million user downloads.

“Multi-touch input is a significant advantage compared to input devices like the trackpad, especially when it comes to live performance. For the future we are definitely seeing tablets taking over more and more tasks that are currently performed on laptops, while providing an even better user experience.”

A Keyboard

usbfever_ipad_4_solar_keyboard_casse.jpg

This isn’t just a keyboard for the iPad. It’s also solar-powered. Yes, really.

Next up is possibly the most voiced request for the iPad since its 2010 launch: a keyboard.

The presence of a keyboard might bite into MacBook sales, but it could also open up the iPad to a whole new audience. Yes, third-party keyboards exist (and some of them are even quite good) but there’s no getting around the fact that, at present, the iPad is presented as a device that doesn’t need one. It does.

“I recently had the opportunity to use Microsoft’s Surface 3 tablet and, while the software’s not all that great, I really feel that the hybrid form factor may well be where the tablet market goes,” says Michael Grothaus.

By taking on the Surface model (something that Apple has actually hinted at in a recent patent application), Apple could create an iPad that would combine the best that an iPad and MacBook have to offer.

A Stylus

Hand in hand with the demand for a keyboard is users’ hunger for a stylus. With the Newton MessagePad in the 1990s, Apple was one of the first tech companies to investigate the potential of the stylus, only for the innovative control mechanism to fall by the wayside after Jobs’ return.

It needs to make a return.

“I really hope that Apple introduces something similar to Samsung’s S Pen but the reality is that stylus is a dirty word in Cupertino,” says Dave Howell, founder and CEO of app-maker Avatron Software and a former software engineering manager in Apple’s Applications division.

While a stylus might rob the iPad of some of its simplicity, the ability to write, draw, annotate or whatever else directly onto the screen would be an enormous benefit to the iPad. As Howell points out, a device like the S-Pen, which ships with Samsung’s Galaxy Note tablet, is one innovation that Apple could really do with borrowing.

A Dying Form Factor?

“I’d argue that the iPad division is more important than ever right now,” says Ted Nash, co-founder of iOS mobile advertising company Tapdaq. “While all of the emphasis is on the iPhone, I think the iWatch could seriously cannibalize the smartphone market. Although a lot of the rumors suggest it will be paired with the iPhone, once we get used to taking calls on our smart watches, where does that leave the iPhone? Even with a larger display it’s too small to really be an effective note-taking tool, or to be used for productivity apps. The iPad is going to be key in this.”

Whether this turns out to be true remains to be seen. However, what’s inarguable is that the iPad still represents a massive portion of Apple’s business: one that would be bigger than Facebook, Telsa, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Groupon combined if it was rolled out as a separate company.

But it could be even more successful.

Some commentators like Walt Mossberg have argued that the slowdown of iPad sales may be because customers see tablets more like PCs than smartphones: in other words, something that needs an upgrade every 3-4 years rather than annually. If that’s the case, Apple needs to offer a compelling reason for users to upgrade.

Any one of these suggestions would be enough to have us plonking our cash down for a future iPad Pro or iPad Maxi.

Combined, they could just help lead the iPad back into the promised land.

  • thanxal

    So essentially, this article states that Apple should transform its best selling tablet with millions and millions sold into the worst performing tablet on the market, the Surface (keyboard, stylus, bigger screen)? No thanks. Had Apple started with that they’d be in the same sorry state that Microsoft is in. This article is much-ado-about-nothing.

    • http://dubovik.org Sergey Dubovik

      I was just about to write that!)

    • JimP

      Exactly right!!!!

  • Jim

    This is possibly the worst thing I’ve ever read on this site (and there have been some doozies). The two biggest things you mentioned are things that run contrary to the point of the iPad. Nobody needs Apple to make its own keyboard. There are plenty of excellent third party ones already available. And as for styluses, all they need to do is provide in built software and hardware responsiveness to third party styluses. They don’t need to provide their own. Those are two very small points that I believe only niche users are requesting.

    The main thing the iPad needs, that most people are asking for and that you’ve completely failed to mention is decent multitasking. Multitasking that is simple to use and offers more functionality than what the competition provides. Nobody has gotten it right yet. It’s a nightmare on Samsung tablets and it’s a nightmare on Windows RT. People just want to be able to read and article and watch a video at the same time. Everything else you mentioned caters to a niche.

    You’re trying to make out that Apple should be trying to gain ground in productivity and that’s true to a point but the vast majority of iPad users are casual users who want it for entertainment and consumption. This whole piece reads like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Did you just Google the content of this article?

    • Pedro Nuno

      Have you tried any stylus that exist for the ipad?. They suck. What the ipad needs is to be able to work with a stylus like the one you can find in wacon tablets, a professional stylus. Even this wouldn’t be good enough because drawing on a tablet its like drawing in a glass window and doesn’t feels natural. What Apple or any other company could do(if possible) was to make a transparent cover that would have a paper like texture and of course, should allow the use of a professional stylus. This would make the ipad some serious piece of hardware and a lot of people would use it at work and it wouldn’t be just designers or artists.

      • Jackie Jormpjomp

        Buy a better stylus.

      • http://dubovik.org Sergey Dubovik

        Have you tried Pencil from Fiftythree? It’s freaking awesome!

    • imajoebob

      Stole my thunder. Apple needs a REAL OS that can multitask and use multiple windows. I don’t understand why – after 7 iterations – iOS isn’t a full-blown OS that’s merged with OS X, and running the same basic front end as Macs. This is a huge fail. Luckily for Apple, HP blew it on this same opportunity when they bought Palm. If they’d actually invested in developing the software the largest computer maker in the world would have an optimized proprietary OS running across all it’s platforms.
      Maybe working with IBM will get them on track to fully developing a tablet computer, not just an oversized phone?

      • http://dubovik.org Sergey Dubovik

        You are right it is a huge fail! And millions upon millions sold are the proof of your point

      • imajoebob

        Selling more than 3 million Ford Pintos proves it wasn’t a design/engineering failure?

      • http://dubovik.org Sergey Dubovik

        Three million comparing to hundreds of million? Dude, chillax

      • imajoebob

        Dud(e), stop “chillaxing” and engage your puny brain. 3 million cars is a phenomenal number sold. They sold more than a half million in one year alone. Those ARE iPad numbers. Huge popularity also gave us the Pet Rock, “The Facts of Life,” Taco Bell, Walmart, and Ronald Reagan. I wouldn’t hold any of those up as the pinnacle of their class, but it’s hard to find many more popular.

      • http://dubovik.org Sergey Dubovik

        Well, where is the “fail”then? “This is a huge fail” your words.
        Or you just one of those haters that go “It sucks, because I don’t like it”? Well ,following your logic Microsoft is doing great with their “all-in-one” metro, you got REAL OS there. You can use that

  • http://almashriq.hiof.no/lebanon/300/320/324/324.2/hizballah/ Sons of Ares

    I still use my iPad quite a bit on a daily basis. But, as I am not an entrepreneur getting some free publicity with a link, I suppose I am not the target audience for this blog entry.

    • Alexandru Mihnea MOUCHA

      I am a teacher (PhD level) and I can manage a week of teaching without the MacBook Pro. In fact it remained like a portable desktop for me (even if it has 13 inch). But i CANNOT manage a teaching day without the iPad and the VGA adapter. Simply put.

      • imajoebob

        Baloney. You just prefer the iPad. As a teacher you should know the difference. That you don’t means you’re either lacking in critical teaching skills or are just being deceptive.

  • Morris Zwick

    I think the biggest observation in the article is the last one – compelling need to upgrade. I still have first generation iPads that we use for POS and my iPad 2 works great. The POS stations will need a refresh soon, but that means a 4-5 year refresh cycle, sorta like a PC. There hasn’t been anything in the last couple of releases that compelled me to replace my trusty iPad. The good news for Apple is that also means the switching costs are high, which means that Microsoft is entering a tough market…

    • luxlamf

      I just bought my 2nd iPad since getting a iPad 2 several years ago, I bought it as it was offered to me at a great discount and I love it. Would I have if not for the huge price cut? No because my iPad 2 still does what it needs to just fine.

  • JimP

    The iPad IS the defacto standard. It’s the one every other company out there is comparing itself to….. It’s not broken so to say it needs to be “fixed” is a bit of a stretch don’t you think

  • MikeCam

    This is a joke right? I’ve lost all respect for Cult of Mac in the last few weeks, wow.

    • lowtolerance

      Lol you respected CoM before that?

  • Bob Plank

    I have a 3rd gen iPad. In my personal life, I use it more than my Macbook or my iPhone combined. If the iPhone 6 comes in 5.5″, I will probably use my phone more than I do today. I would probably upgrade to a 13″ iPad.

    It doesn’t need a keyboard. The iPad has supported the Apple keyboard for years. There are already many productivity apps for the iPad. The iPad has basically replaced PCs. Most people replace PCs when they no longer run software that they deem necessary, or when the hardware wears out. The iPad is not something consumers will buy every year or two. It is something they will buy every 5 – 7 years.

  • Al

    Luke, you should be thinking about a re-write

  • Jacob Kramer

    I own a Mac, iPhone and iPad as well. Of these, at home, I use my iPad the most.

    It sounds like what you want is a Surface. I hear you shouldn’t have a problem finding them in stock.

  • luxlamf

    I cannot tell you how many times I go to use my iPad and say “Golly I wish this was more like a giant Palm Pilot and not this nice sleek product that does exactly what it is suppose to almost flawlessly” What a ridiculous article and if you worked for Apple and offered these “Idea’s” I would hope you would be fired.

  • Mark Edwards

    The only two things I think Apple need to do with the iPad is (a) a slightly larger screen and (b) make it /much/ lighter.

    Mine is mostly used as an eReader [think morning papers, the occasional book, as a desk reference when developing], and whilst, when I’m at my desk writing code the iPad can be propped up in a suitable stand, when I’m lounging reading something then the weight of it does tend to get a bit much.

    I’d rather something along the weight of a Kindle or thereabouts, but with the advantage of the larger screen. [Yes, I know its a tall stretch, but surely there’s an avenue for some serious R&D to be done]

  • Fallenjt

    Here you go: a walk to the past. iPad with keyboard and stylus? Wtf? How many time that people lost the “pointy” things for thier PDA before? Keyboard? The iPad concept is light, thin and portable. Adding a keyboard will defeat all of these purposes. Btw, there’s a MacBook Air for it.

  • John Robertson

    Jeezo, a keyboard, a stylus, what next? A desktop hard drive? And some people criticise Apple for a lack of innovation! This article is so backward in it’s thinking, I had to check it wasn’t April 1st

  • http://appaddict.net/ Brett (@OTGGamer)

    Wow…so many haters in these comments…

    While I don’t agree with all of the arguments made in this post, I for one would LOVE to see a (Surface-style) keyboard added to the iPad.

    I use my iPad Air for pretty much everything, but the on screen keyboard just does not cut it when it comes to typing anything of significant length. So I carry around a BT keyboard or use a rotating BT Keyboard case to fill the void.

    Something thin and light and built right into the cover would be fantastic and make the iPad that much more flexible as a suitable laptop replacement when traveling. However many of these cases are just as heavy if not heavier than the iPad itself!

    Fortunately it seems that we may finally be getting a pseudo file system thanks to the iCloud changes coming in iOS 8, not if they can just add a keyboard cover…

  • Dave Payne

    What I really want is better multi-tasking and ring fenced user accounts. I want my kids to be able to use it – even to have their own pass codes – but I want to be able to control exactly what apps/access they have. This would be such a simple fix for Apple that I can only presume it’s deliberate to try and get me to buy 2 more iPads. And it’ll probably work.

  • JFX

    Let me guess… you want USB and SD ports?? LOL

  • jsk2

    “Next up is possibly the most voiced request for the iPad since its 2010 launch: a keyboard.”

    Try doing a little research sometime. Disregarding the fact that all iPads work with Bluetooth keyboards, one of the iPad’s original accessories (yes, in 2010) was a keyboard dock that held the iPad up like a laptop screen (with special keys for certain touch actions). Apple soon stopped selling it because nobody bothered to buy it. Reviews from the time (which can be found with 10 seconds of Google searching) put the retail price at $69.

  • Son of a bitch

    a styllus? R YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

  • Nathan Taylor

    I love my iPad mini with retina & it comes with me most places. I have an iPad Air ‘for the house’ & it’s used everyday for watching Lynda.com, Netflix, YouTube etc whilst in the kitchen.

  • Jackie Jormpjomp

    Do you online journalists write anything but doomsday articles? Apple still leads the market and you talk about a 10% year to year drop like Apple is about to mortgage off everything they own. Ooooh, he admitted a speed bump. And your “fixes” are mostly idiotic. Hey, let’s introduce a stylus again because the last time it did nothing to help make tablets essential. And let’s add a keyboard since the Surface is posting gigantic losses. It’s probably best you’re writing about this subject and not actually working on products. Your speculations luckily don’t cost anyone anything. Except the time it takes to read them.

  • http://wizardgold.com/wordpress Wizardgold

    A keyboard – That’s a bit old hat… Better to have better dictation software on there. Would be great to have the Nuance DragonDictate on the iPad.
    A Stylus…. You are kidding. You can get and use a stylus now anyway. I have one for when I get the urge to draw and paint on the iPad.
    I think the iPad is pretty amazing already and iOS 8 with the third party keyboards will be another improvement. Maybe a bigger version could be handy for some people.

    Yes this article is pure fluff with nothing sensible or interesting to add.

  • Jason blodgett

    give the ipad a proper digitizer/stylus for taking math/science notes and it becomes the only computer i really need.

  • DemolitionMan

    Ok this has got to be the MOST BACKWARD bunch of BUNK I’ve read in a long time.
    Come on a STYLUS!! Get real NO ONE LIKED THEM when we had them and we lost them all the time. That’s why we all enjoyed the touch screens we could use with our fingers. The iPad HAS many inexpensive bluetooth keyboards, I own the logitech, works great for a smart cover too, it is available for the MINI as well. More integration with SIRI and more ability to add some features that are starting to roll out in other phones and pads is more like what needs to happen. How about the CORDLESS charging we all have heard about? The author needs to THINK A BIT MORE before submitting such dribble.

  • give_me_a_break

    I dont care about tablets. I care about computers. Apple is the 80% company. They only want to develop a few products that appeal to the 80%. they want to ignore the 20%. But the 80% market may be fragmenting into lots of smaller markets. That flies in the face of what apple can do.

  • Robby

    Weird! Larger, keyboard, and stylus are the answer?

  • Robby

    There are already keyboards and styllii! That won’t really make people upgrade. A HUGE iPad is a niche market. (That Kimmel send up is a riot!). What’s needed are design and feature upgrades…

    Give me a Mini with a flash, 8mb, low-light capable camera. Add in more RAM for better caching, faster rendering, and return. Provide it in polycarbonate and colors a la iPhone 5c. Include Touch ID.

    Do the camera and we’ll upgrade to new iPads in a minute!

    The new iOS8, especially with alternative keyboards, and Continuity, should also help. Provide customization of the iOS interface, especially colors (there needs to be a REAL night mode).

    And so on. All of that will help spur sales.

  • Roguewave1

    As a serious iPad user, the device needs an inert frame to keep unwanted commands from leaking in and a port for portatable memory expansion.

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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