Stuck in the middle
It’s also clear that the iPad, originally pitched as the future of computers, has stagnated in a no-man’s land, lacking both the convenience of a smartphone and the power of a Mac, the best of neither world.
To borrow a sentiment from John Gruber, the iPad has a tough time because in some ways it’s competing both with the iPhone, a truly blockbuster product, and the Mac, which has a strong, devoted user base and a long history. That’s a tough channel to navigate.
I suspect that a big part of why we’re hearing so many rumors about the iPad Pro is that Apple is trying hard to find a way to broaden the appeal of the iPad and reduce its competition. Because a 12-inch iPad doesn’t compete in the same space at all as an iPhone, so it becomes merely a comparison between the tablet and a laptop. (Granted, the slim and powerful MacBook will provide stiff competition.)
It also helps explain why, as rumors suggest, an iPad Air 3 may not be immediately forthcoming. The iPad Air 2 is already an extremely powerful device that’s ahead of the curve for what it’s being asked to do—developers I’ve talked to have been impressed by just how much it’s capable of. Introducing a new iPad mini that comes closer to the Air 2’s specs and an iPad Pro with a larger screen not only makes those devices stronger contenders on their own, but also potentially spares Apple from getting too much flack if it skips a year of “standard” iPad updates.
I think Apple would like to be freed from feeling that it has to update the 9.7-inch iPad—or any iPad, for that matter—each and every year. That trap has exacerbated the speed of obsolescence for preceding generations, while often providing only meager updates, like the iPad mini 3.
So don’t be shocked if October comes around and the iPad lineup isn’t quite what we’ve grown accustomed to. Apple’s not about to kill of the iPad, but it does need to put the product line’s best foot forward if it wants to present a truly compelling argument to customers.
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