Could signs of sanity finally be returning to the tablet market?

Could signs of sanity finally be returning to the tablet market?

Summary: At Apple's Q2 earnings call with analysts, top executives said iPad sales came in at the high end of the company's expectations, but under outsider estimates. Macs are holding their own. Could this be a sign that sanity is returning when it comes to real productivity?


Before Apple's Wednesday earnings call, a number of analysts expressed concern about soft iPad sales, down 37 and 16 percent, sequentially and year-over-year, respectively. During the call, Apple executives offered a number of excuses. But what may be happening — across the industry and mobile platforms — is the understanding by customers that while an iPad is great and necessary technology, it can't replace a real computer in a real workflow. In the Apple context, that means Macintosh.


Could signs of sanity finally be returning to tablet market?

According to Apple executives, the latest fluctuation in sales was due to the company attempting to keep a certain quantity and mix of units in the channel, and differences in demand at various times of the year. Luca Maestri, vice president of finance and corporate controller, said it was all about channel inventories.

However, sales of Macintosh appear to be holding their own. On the call CEO Tim Cook said:

We saw 4.1 million Macs compared to just under 4 million in the year ago quarter. Thanks to strong performance from MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, Macs have now gained global market share for 31 of the last 32 quarters. Response to Mavericks has been great, and we are very proud of the fact that so many of our Mac customers are taking advantage of the most advanced and secured experience possible. We ended the quarter with Mac channel inventory slightly below our four to five week target range.

Remember that the winter quarter, Apple's fiscal Q2, is traditionally a slow one for the company. This quarter's Mac unit sales were down 14 percent sequentially, but up five percent from the year-ago quarter. The company doesn't break out models or mobile/desktop stats. Apple sold four times more iPads than Macs, but made only 27 percent more revenue.

Check Out: What hurt are iPad sales putting on Macs?

To my eyes, this isn't solid evidence of the "post-PC era," where most computing would be done by a tablet and not a PC. While there were four times more iPads sold than Macs, sales of Macs aren't falling as would be expected.

In a post to the Monday Note blog before Apple's call, Jean-Louis Gassée took a critical look at the rise of the iPad and its problems in a real workflow. I've said similar things over the years.

The iPad rose and rose. It won legions of admirers because of its simplicity: No windows (no pun), no file system, no cursor keys (memories of the first Mac). Liberated from these old-style personal computer ways, the iPad cannibalized PC sales and came to be perceived as the exemplar Post-PC device.

But that truly blissful simplicity exacts a high price. I recall my first-day disappointment when I went home and tried to write a Monday Note on my new iPad. It’s difficult — impossible, really — to create a real-life composite document, one that combines graphics, spreadsheet data, rich text from several sources and hyperlinks. For such tasks, the Rest of Us have to go back to our PCs and Macs.

Gassée noted that there are people who "happily" do productivity work on their iPads. He said most use one of the iPad keyboards on the market. He said people are finding that they want to use both an iPad and a classical PC, in the Mac context, a Mac.

The iPad’s limitations extend beyond classic office productivity tasks. I just tried to build an itinerary for a long postponed road trip, driving all the way from Key West Florida to Palo Alto. On a Mac, you can easily “print to PDF” to produce a map for each leg of the trip. Then you use the wonderful Preview app (I salute its author and dedicated maintainer) to emend unneeded pages, drag and drop, combine and rearrange the PDF files into a single document. Don’t try this on an iPad: How would you “print-to-PDF” a map page, let alone combine such pages?

Despite the inspiring ads, Apple’s hopes for the iPad overshot what the product can actually deliver. Although there are a large numbers of iPad-only users, there’s also a substantial population of dual-use customers for whom both tablets and conventional PCs are now part of daily life.

There appears to be a madness among computer users about mobility. Perhaps it's some accupressure point in the shoulder that's triggered by carrying a 15-inch laptop in a shoulder bag for an entire day or two or more. They can't take it any more. I recall hearing people say they could now give up their laptop or desktop computer and replace it with an iPhone and a portable keyboard. Really? So much more so with the arrival of the iPad.

I recall hearing the same tropes way back in the 1990s following the release of Apple's Newton MessagePad and the Palm III. And I tried using them on trips to replace my laptop. Fail.

Here are a couple of thoughts that come to mind:

• iOS hardware and software provide a capable platform for all kinds of interesting, useful, and productive tasks in a mobile environment. However, they don't (can't) offer the same usage, or workflow model, as found with a laptop or desktop. Like Gassée, I may use a number of applications and files for a single task on my MacBook Pro, moving data quickly here and there. I've automated some of these tasks with scripts. This integration is impossible on an iPad.

Because of the limitations of iOS, with its sandboxing and difficult file handling, the iPad (and iPhone) are for their users, much like the closed hardware and software turnkey systems of the early days of computing. The more successful apps are packed with functions — they try to do everything because they have to and it works out best for their customers. Some developers understand this and others don't.

• This new realism about tablet usability could signal an opportunity for Macintosh. Customers appreciate its level of integration, which the Wintel platform has not been able to approach. And then there's the continuing problematic reputation of the PC platform, which continues to be in sorry shape.

Perhaps I should have said that this will be a golden opportunity for Cupertino to pitch the "Apple ecosystem:" meaning the deep integration of Apple hardware (on both mobile devices and Macs), operating systems, Apple software (from Apple and its third-party developers), Apple's iCloud services and its various online and bricks-and-mortar stores. A refreshed halo. 

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad, Laptops, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • So much profit from one device

    Apple is still at risk. Tech can change in a heart beat. Android is becoming much more consumer friendly. Gone are the days of mods and hacking to make Android usable. Kitkat has made some great strides. The camera on the s5 is as good as the iPhone and its screen is larger with extended storage. Its hard for any company to innovate continuously. If the next two generations of the iPhone (6 and 6s?) are not stellar and truly "magic" that could be dangerous for a company that relies so heavily on one product.

    Google and Microsoft don't make a significant income from mobile. They are business facing, and businesses move slower and have longer purchase cycles. Consumers switch every two years (or faster now with the new data plans). As an Apple investor, I would think this would be cause for concern.

    I know of three people who recently switched from iOS to Android and are not going back. I'm seriously thinking of switching if Apple doesn't come out with a 5+ inch iPhone with a better battery life.
    A Gray
    • You have some points

      I think you definitely have some points. I also think Apple will release that larger iPhone everyone is clamoring for. I have just started using a Galaxy Note 3 (for work) and use an iPhone 5S at home. I wish they could combine both of these OS's. The Note has some nice features, though it still feels like a hacked together system, especially when you actually try to use the voice activated features. Samsung S-Voice is integrated and replaces the Google Now voice features and so neither works that well. I LOVE the big screen, the Swype and the stylus note taking, though. If Apple were to integrate a couple of these features, it would be stellar. Apple has much better integration with everything on the phone and it simply works better, since they only have one product. It's not a hodge-podge of software and gimmicks (well, other than the touch-ID, which is nice, but not the best).

      I still think Apple is the better phone, but you are right, Android is catching up fast. If they don't start moving a little faster, they will be left behind.
      • Apple getting pressure from Microsoft and Android

        It was only a few weeks ago that it would be difficult to include Microsoft as a phone competitor for Apple. However, with completing the purchase of Nokia, they have suddenly rocketed to the 2nd larges Cell Phone maker in the world behind Samsung.

        Also, with the introduction of Cortana and the slew of features in Windows Phone 8.1 OS (With great features like built in swipe, one of the best notification centers, support for dual sims, the best SD card support I've seen on a phone, universal apps, etc.) coupled with great hardware (multiple screen sizes, NFC, Qi charging, super sensitive screens, Miracast, ....etc.), Microsoft is suddenly a contender.

        It probably won't happen overnight and the U.S. will probably be the last market to make significant shifts, but Apple has a real fight on its hands now. It can't continue to simply milk profits from its singular product line and rest on its laurels.
  • Tablet Productivity will Always be the issue....

    Whether it be the iPad, Android Tablets or Windows Surface they all share one thing in common. Limited productivity to various degrees.

    How much can be achieved on a 10" tablet display. The answer has to be not a lot. Precisely the same applies to the 11" MacBook Air unless connected up to an external display.

    The best option will always be a decent Desktop. I use a First Generation iPad Mini whilst out and about and at home a 21.5" iMac.

    Anyone who claims Tablets are capable of high rates of productivity have obviously not had the use of a Decent Desktop.
    • I would disagree

      Tablets CAN replace a desktop for most people. I have been using a Surface Pro 2 for a while now. While I'm mobile, it's a great tablet, with apps, games, etc. I have a keyboard flipped behind the screen when I need it. When I need a productivity device, I dock it at my desktop and go to work.

      Those times I need quick file system/USB key access....I hit the desktop. Yea, a mouse is better, but I find it's not hard to move around and do the simple mobile tasks.

      What I would hope for is an iPad with a USB port and a sandboxed file transfer. I don't know that it will happen, but that would be awesome.
    • Tablets that run mobile operating systems are the issue

      Don't confuse Windows tablets with iOS/Androids tablets as if they all have the same limitations.

      While you and other may need a Mac and an iPad to achieve a complete set of combined features to meet your needs, that isn't the case elsewhere.

      I do just fine when using my windows tablet or laptop. The only time I choose to switch between them is when I want to use a different form factor. Notice that the choice is mine and not one that is forced by the limitation of the tablet or the laptop as is the case with your setup.

      I can take either of my Windows devices with me and not have any concern that it will not offer me the functionality I need.

      Also, anyone could plug their windows tablet or laptop into a 21 inch monitor and eliminate the need to purchase a $1300+ secondary machine just to have something bigger to look at while at home.

      Liberating. That is the word that best describes moving away from a mobile operating system tablet.
      • I agree. The OS is the issue with most tablets.

        People are no longer satisfied with a Phone OS on a tablet. Android is holding serve because the entry point prices are so low. However, Intel reported that we would soon see Windows 8 tablets as low as $130 retail price in the coming months. That will give people at the low end an alternative to those bottom dwelling Android tablets.
  • The article is poor

    The author makes a sounding title and justify his personal vision about mobile and desktop market without mentioning android or windows! Also be didn't mention smartphones for the post pc era.
    • Re: The article is poor....

      I think it is self explanatory what the basis of the article covers. Although he mentions Apple products the same can be applied to all platforms.
      • No it can't

        Macs are 5 to 10% of desktop market, android has now the biggest share in tablets and post pc era is also about smartphones.
        The article is like Apple is the center of the it world - it's not, not even close.
        That's like making an article about car sales and use just the data from Dubai.
        • @Ale Martin

          The article mentions Apple only because the whole column is about Apple (the author has been an Apple follower for many years). Just get with it. If you want to read about Windows, you're reading the wrong column (Read Mary Jo's column, she does a very good job following Microsoft).
          • The starting title and question

            " Could signs of sanity finally be returning to the tablet market?"

            it's not
            " Could signs of sanity finally be returning to the APPLE tablet market?

            I'm not saying the article is biased, but you can't develop an entire article around that title just mentioning an, in many cases, minor player.
      • Alemartin makes a point

        Take this line from the article for example
        "is the understanding by customers that while an iPad is great and necessary technology, it can't replace a real computer in a real workflow."

        There is a pretty strong tone that somehow the iPad is necessary and the only real device in this category.

        The disconnect is that of all the mobile platforms, the iPad is the most limited and locked down. Saying the same can be applied to all other platforms isn't being realistic.
        • @Emacho

          It's an opinion column about Apple, so yes, it is biased. Read something else if you're bothered by that (Ed Bott does the same with Microsoft, and it's perfectly fine by me in both cases -- to each his own!)
          • Tone is implied by the reader

            I'm not sure what makes you think it bothers me. Reread what I posted and imagine I'm saying it while drinking coffee as we chat. Not so bothered anymore. ;)

            Anyhow, I was just pointing out that what AleMartin said was true and the 535guy was incorrect saying that anything about an iPad can be applied to all other tablets. Which on many levels is not true.
  • Smartphones are the mobile device

    I really think smartphones are better mobile devices. You start making them a bit bigger and many ask, why do I need a tablet? I think some thought the end result would be people buying a smartphone and tablet and ditching the PC and Mac's. Not sure if that is happening.
    • Re: ditching the PC and Mac's....

      Desktop Computers will always be in demand.Graphical Design, High level gaming and other demanding tasks will never be possible on Tablets let alone Smartphones.
  • Spellcheck

    Why don't you people use spellcheck?
    Stanley Kramer
  • Do Work? It's all about screen real estate

    This is staring me in the face - literally - it's all about screen real estate - and an OS that supports LOTS OF IT

    I'm writing a technical paper. I've got my statistics program (Data Desk), graphics programs (DataGraph and OmniGraffle) and document processor (Pages v 4.3) open. I'm moving between them - constantly. I'm looking at one while writing in the others. I pop open Preview to trim a PDF, I've opened Pixel Stick to make a measurement.

    I get a message on my phone - for some reason my iPhone gets Messages faster than my 27" iMac - I read the message on my phone - I open Messages on my iMac to reply. Yeah, I like a keyboard too...

    I don't think anything is replacing everything. For my Mom an iPad might be a useful email tool - but - she's 82 and needs a big screen and a keyboard she understands - so that 21" iMac is her go to tool.

    I think the only person who can be iPad/Tablet only is a toddler - just make sure the tablet is in a good case!
    • Plug a windows tablet into a 21 inch monitor

      Boom, you are a "tablet only" user.

      If you want to spend $1300+ on a 21 inch monitor that has a built in computer, fine. However Grandma who only emails will be no more functional with that than she would be with a $200 tablet + keyboard/mouse and a $100 21 inch monitor.

      Net savings $1000.

      Bonus is the multiscreen functionality Windows8 offers.

      Going tablet only can be done, but it is much easier on Windows.