Apple's iPad event on Thursday will refresh the product line, bolster the company's holiday shipments and move the tablet more into the enterprise arena. That latter point may be the most critical for Apple in the long run.
Aside from the usual product cycle implications for the Apple, I'm betting that over time the iPad will be seen as a more of an enterprise device than a personal one. Apple's iPhone has a lot of business traction, but the iPad is close behind and has a better shot than the Mac ever will in the enterprise. The tablet market is going to be dominated by cheap almost throwaway devices, but Apple can preserve margins with a corporate spin.
Here's why Apple's iPad is looking more like a corporate device than a personal one.
- Tablets can be personal but only to a degree. The bottom line when it comes to device intimacy is that the smartphone is the gadget always with you. A tablet may make the cut, but often isn't packed with the rest of your computing gear. When the iPad launched, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the device created a new category "that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before." I'd argue that the iPad and other tablets can only go so far on the intimacy scale. The smartphone remains the go-to device.
- iPad replacing laptops. The larger iPads — including a rumored 12.9-inch version on tap in 2015 — are often seen as laptop replacements for a certain type of worker. With the iPhone 6 Plus eating away at iPad mini sales in the future, Apple's tablet portfolio will skew to the larger screens. That reality makes the iPad more suited in areas where laptops would have roamed. Apple's slate of business apps also work better on larger screens. Toss in Apple's partnership with IBM and you have the makings of a corporate more than personal device.
- iPads in the field as kiosks and sales tools. The most innovative uses of the iPad are seen in the field with businesses both large and small. The iPad is becoming a cash register and card reader of choice for many businesses as applications such as Square become staples. Meanwhile, the iPad serves as kiosk and sales too to close deals. How many times have you seen a personal app on the iPad where you stop and do a double take? In a business setting, the iPad can still be a head turner.
- Longer refresh cycles. Tablets have a long shelf life and that's why sales growth is slowing rapidly. Tablets replacement cycles may ultimately resemble PCs with three-year minimums and likely longer turns in the field. There's no reason to replace an iPad — or any other tablet — on the same cadence as Apple. Managing those corporate enterprise replacement cycles will be critical to long-term growth.
- Security and enterprise features. The latest iPad will have the enterprise features included in iOS 8, but are also likely to have Touch ID, which can enhance identity management on a broader scale. Apple's Touch ID API opens the door for third-party developers to use biometrics as an authentication tool.