To save the iPad, Apple needs to copy Microsoft

Apple needs to take a long, hard look at why Microsoft is managing to shift so many Surface tablets despite the iPad being a much stronger, better-known brand.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer
iPad Pro running OS X El Capitan (mockup)

Apple might be able to sell more iPad Pro tablets than Microsoft shifted Surface units -- IDC estimates numbers in the region of 2 million for the iPad Pro compared to some 1.6 million for the Surface -- but with iPad sales falling, Microsoft may hold the key to the future of the iPad.

While the iPad is in decline, Microsoft is seeing strong Surface revenue growth.

I remember when I was an enormous fan of the iPad. What wasn't there to like? After all, it was a giant iPhone that brought with it the promise of so much innovation and reinvention. But a few years down the line and iPad sales are waning because the iPad concept has stagnated. It's still little more than a giant iPhone. I gave up on mine after I switched to the iPhone 6 Plus because while the 5.5-inch display is a ways short of the 9.7-inches of the standard iPad, there just wasn't anything that I wanted to do that I couldn't now do on my iPhone.

Sure, the extra screen real estate was nice, but it meant carrying an iPhone and an iPad with me. But the more I used my iPhone, the less I felt the desire to carry the iPad, and pretty soon my iPad took permanent residence under my Mac's keyboard (until a family member adopted it).

Why bother carrying two devices about -- three if you include the keyboard -- when one will do?

The iPad's Achilles' heel is the operating system and the fact that it's restricted to running apps, most of which are just revamped version of iPhone apps.

The iPad was nice and exciting while it was new, but it never became an essential.

Now compare this to the Microsoft Surface. Here is a device that excites me, and not just because of the hardware (though I have to admit that the hardware is nice). What excites me the most about the Surface is its ability to run a full operating system, which in turn gives me the freedom and flexibility to run full applications such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office, as opposed to the watered-down versions available from the app store. At the same time, it gives me the option to run cut-down apps from the Windows app store if that's what I want.

It's easy to disregard Microsoft in the hardware space, especially given its dismal performance in the smartphone market. But if there's one thing that the Redmond giant knows, it's PCs, and while the Surface has had a few teething issues, there's no doubt that it's a premium piece of hardware.

Which brings me to the direction that the iPad -- or at least the iPad Pro -- should go in, and that's an OS X tablet.

And why not? After all, Apple has all the pieces in place to come out with an OS X tablet. Take one new MacBook, pry out the keyboard and duct tape the display to the body and there you have it, an OS X-powered MacBook tablet. OK, I'm sure Apple would do things a little more elegantly than that, but the innovation crammed inside Apple's current MacBook looks eerily similar to that of a tablet.

"What about the keyboard?" I hear you ask. OS X has a built-in on-screen keyboard ready to use.

Want to add more ports? There's a dongle for that!

Yes, OS X would need some work to make it touch-ready, but Apple has been working towards making OS X look and feel -- and work -- more like iOS during recent years.

The power and the battery life it would bring to the table would make it a killer device for BYOD and enterprise.

I know, I know, Tim Cook said that customers didn't want a combined iPad and MacBook, but following last quarter's financial results, it's becoming clear that customers don't really want the iPad as it is anymore either.

Now I understand why Apple likes the idea of its tablet running iOS as opposed to OS X -- think app revenue -- but that Microsoft is having so much success with the Surface is a clear indicator that when it comes to tablets, consumers seem to be gravitating towards a full-blown operating system.

I know that everyone's mileage will vary, and I'm also well aware of the fact that there are a lot of people who feel that the iPad works for them just as it is. But it's hard for me to ignore the facts, specifically that iPad sales are falling, and that the Surface, which is a much weaker brand than the iPad, is making significant headway. I think that by ditching Windows RT and instead choosing to focus on the full-fat version of Windows, that Microsoft has made the better, braver choice, and is now being rewarded with strong sales.

It's time for Apple to be brave and make a pro tablet running OS X.

See also:

'Must-have' accessories for your MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro (February 2016 edition)

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