Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Can Apple Revive iPad and make it great again?

I have had an iPad 2 for nearly 5 years now and it still works great. I have not felt a need to upgrade it either. The fact that the old iPad works so well is great, but it also indicates a BIG short coming in product planning by Apple. (Samsung has not done great either with its Samsung Tab)

Eons ago, Apple released a groundbreaking product called iPad which sold hundreds of millions of units and customers loved it. After few years of increasing sales, gravity seems to have taken over iPad sales and now the sales of iPad is dropping every quarter.

The product is so good that it does not breakdown and customers like me are happy using it even after 5 years.

The fact that my iPad has outlasted my laptop made me think over it.

When I bought my first iPad, I thought the next version of iPad will surely replace my laptop. Few months later, I got another one for my daughter and my wife got a Samsung Tab.

Both iPads and Samsung Tab still do a great job & I see no reason to replace it with newer models. I read books, browse web, read gmail etc., But the usage is limited. For other creative work, I still need a laptop. For example, I am typing this article on a laptop!

In my opinion, iPad missed several great opportunities to be a perfect replacement for a laptop and a Television. I think, Apple is struck with an unresolved dilemma. Is iPad a computing device? Or is iPad an entertainment device? Should iPad evolve to replace laptops? Or should iPad evolve to replace Televisions?

To me, this is similar to the dilemma faced by Yahoo!  Is Yahoo a media company or is Yahoo a technology company! Yahoo was unable to resolve this dilemma and died. Hopefully Apple can do better.

Long ago, I saw iPad as a computing device which would replace my laptop as a primary computing device. But my daughter uses it as a game console and entertainment device. In both cases, iPad still has not been able to progress much.

Path Ahead for Apple

Putting my product management hat, the best I can recommend is to split iPad into two distinct product lines.

1. Expand the compute capability & make it a preferred compute platform.

2. Expand screen size and make iPad a perfect personal TV Platform.

iPad as a Compute platform

With ever increasing CPU power and memory sizes, iPad can be expanded with a better keyboard, and mouse to replace the laptop. Increasing CPU power.

Apple always supported Bluetooth keyboards and it works, but the real issue was with the pointing device. The Apple pencil and Styli is awkward and has never taken off as a pointing device, this needs to be fixed in the future release. Maybe a bluetooth mouse perhaps?

In addition, Apple needs to beef up its app offerings to support better content creation tools - either via a VDI platform or native content creation apps. Today, modern ARM based mobile CPUs have enough compute power to support content creation.

These two can be easily addressed by Apple.

The real big problem is the screen size.

Increasing the screen size to a 11" or a 12" will make iPad bigger and cumbersome to handle. iPad has long supported external displays - via AirPlay protocol, but it was always cumbersome and one had to carry a big bag full of accessories for a small iPad. Instead, the solution is to allow iPad to operate multiple screens - like Windows & OS-X.  Ideally having apps adapt to any screen wirelessly without a docking station will make it ideal device as a workplace productivity tool. Users can use both the iPad screen and an external screen to do their job.

iPad as an Entertainment platform

In the entertainment version of iPad, iPad can leverage wireless connectivity to a larger screen and also support multiple screens - like a VR headset - will help iPad become more relevant to the future of entertainment world.

When it comes to gaming, I would like to see iPad support different wireless gaming controllers - via Bluetooth or wireless USB. This would allow users to use a bigger 48"-96" TV screens for gaming via iPad.

Support for multiple screens will also aid in entertainment usage. One person can watch a video being casted on TV while other watches another video on iPad screen.

Closing Thoughts 

Once iPad makes these changes, app developers will enhance their apps to support such flexible options with large-screens, VR headsets etc., and it usher in a new era in home entertainment, while keeping the base iPad's portability and all day battery usage.

iPad is a great device and can reach greater heights. Apple just needs to evolve this into two distinct platforms to make fit better into more people's divergent needs.

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