iPad Growth

The uptick in iPad sales this quarter has caught people’s attention. One detail John Gruber noted is that:

iPad revenue was only up about 2 percent. That suggests to me, strongly, that this sales bump was driven strongly by the new 9.7-inch iPad that starts at $329.

In response to this, Michael Tsai commented:

I don’t quite understand why people are treating this as a bad thing. It’s good that Apple has made a more affordable iPad that customers seemingly like (unless they just didn’t want to be stuck on iOS 9). And more units sold will be good for the app market.

It is a good thing that Apple makes an affordable iPad that is selling well. I love seeing Apple compete at the low end of the market, something I’ve only truly seen them do a couple of times.1

At the same time, it’s important that the iPad continue to grow at the high end. So much iPad commentary over the past two years of falling sales has been about the fear that the device has already reached its peak potential utility. And if so, that peak has been far lower than what many dreamed of when it first debuted.

The iPad’s average selling price can be seen as an indication of whether the iPad has the potential to continue evolving into a more capable tool. If sales of the Pro line are weak, it’s a sign that Apple hasn’t succeeded in creating useful functionality that takes advantage of improved hardware. And if users don’t need improved hardware, Apple’s business model can’t justify continued iPad software development long term.2

For what it’s worth, iOS 11 seems to me to be the first sign in a long time that Apple can make the iPad significantly more useful for a wider range of people than it has served to date. So while I hope that low end sales continue to grow, I also hope that future quarterly reports show their Pro line growing strongly.

  1. The iPod lineup during its heyday was inspired, and even the MacBook Air had a long reign as an aggressively priced laptop. Both approaches are markedly different than the iPhone strategy of selling yesterday’s models at reduced prices. ↩︎
  2. Unless they manage to build a services business that allows them to profit from users regardless of whether they buy new hardware. ↩︎