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.

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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