Apple are the kings of taking what appears to be failed product ideas and turning them into gold mines. The iPhone took the smartphone market from a niche market of the geeky and technical elite into a worldwide sensation that continues today. The iPad managed to make tablet computing popular, even after both Apple and Microsoft tried to crack the elusive market. However the last few years haven’t seen a repeat of those moments with the last attempt, the Apple Watch, failing to become the sensation many believed it would be. Indeed their latest attempt, the iPad Pro and its host of attachments, feels like simple mimicry more than anything else.
The iPad Pro is a not-quite 13″ device that’s sporting all the features you’d expect in a device of that class. Apple mentions that the new 64bit A9X chip that’s powering it is “desktop class” able to bring a 1.8X CPU performance and 2X graphics performance improvement over the previous iPad Air 2. There’s also the huge display which allows you to run two iPad applications side by side, apparently with no compromises on experience. Alongside the iPad Pro Apple has released two accessories: the smart keyboard, which makes use of the new connector on the side of the iPad, and the Apple Pencil, an active stylus. Whilst all these things would make you think it was a laptop replacement it’s running iOS, meaning it’s still in the same category as its lower powered brethren.
If this is all sounding strangely familiar to you it’s because they’re basically selling an iOS version of the Surface Pro.
Now there’s nothing wrong with copying competitors, all the big players have been doing that for so long that even the courts struggle to agree on who was there first, however the iPad Pro feels like a desperate attempt to capture the Surface Pro’s market. Many analysts lump the Surface and the iPad into the same category however that’s not really the case: the iPad is a tablet and the Surface is a laptop replacement. If you compare the Surface Pro to the Macbook though you can see why Apple created the iPad Pro, their total Mac sales are on the order of $6 billion spread across no less than 7 different hardware lines. Microsoft’s Surface on the other hand has made $1 billion in a quarter from just the Surface alone, a significant chunk of sales that I doubt Apple has managed to make with just the Macbook alone. Thus they bring out a competitor that is almost a blow for blow replica of its main competitor.
However the problem with the iPad Pro isn’t the mimicry, it’s the last step they didn’t take to make the copy complete: putting a desktop OS on it. Whilst it’s clear that Apple’s plan is to eventually unify their whole range of products under the iOS banner not putting the iPad Pro on OSX puts it at a significant disadvantage. Sure the hardware is slightly better than the Surface is but that’s all for naught if you can’t do anything with it. Sure there’s a few apps on there but iOS, and the products that it’s based on, have always been focused on consumption rather than production. OSX on the other hand is an operating system focused on productivity, something that the iPad Pro needs in order to realise its full potential. It’s either that or iOS needs to see some significant rework in order to make the iPad Pro the laptop replacement that the Surface Pro is.
It’s clear that Apple needs to do something in order to re-energize the iPad market, with the sales figures being down both in current quarters and year on year, however I don’t believe that the iPad Pro will do it for them. The new ultra slim Macbook has already cannibalized part of the iPad’s market and this new iPad Pro is going to end up playing in the same space. However for those seeking some form of portable desktop environment in the Apple ecosystem I’m failing to see why you’d choose an iPad Pro over the Macbook. Had they gone with OSX the value proposition would’ve been far more clear however this feels like a token attempt to capture the Surface Pro market and I just don’t think it will work out.