Apple’s iPad has been one of the most iconic devices to surface over the past decade. Created with casual computing in mind, the iPad quickly became the pinnacle of media consumption thanks to its large 9.7-inch display, great battery life, and ease of use. A large part of iPad’s success was contributed to good timing and familiarity in the way that it operated. According to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, the iPad was as successful as it was because it “stands on the shoulders of everything that came before it,” as people were already familiar with multi-touch and apps by the time the iPad came out.
Whatever the reasoning behind its success was, we know that it wasn’t a fluke. 7 years on and Apple is still the leader in tablet sales around the globe, but even the world’s most popular tablet hasn’t been able to avoid slipping tablet sales year after year.
Not one to give up without a fight, Apple has made some changes and additions to the iPad over the years since its inception: the original iPad line lasted for 4 generations until it was replaced by the iPad Air, the smaller 7.9-inch iPad Mini made its debut in 2012, and most recently Apple created the higher-end iPad Pro, which comes in two size variants (12.9 and 9.7) and is the only model that connects with Apple's Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil accessories. Despite the diverse offering, iPad sales continue to slump, but a recent rumor report over on MacRumors states that Apple could make another significant adjustment to the iPad line-up this year in order to boost sales: a new 10 to 10.5-inch screen with a bezel-less display.
The new 10.x-inch iPad is also rumored to be a “Pro” model, along with a second generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro and a lower-end, cheaper non-pro 9.7-inch model.
As always, rumors are best taken with a grain of salt, but they do make good food for thought. I think a middle ground offering between 9.7 and 12.9 is a decent idea, particularly if that just means taking the current 9.7-inch shell and removing the bezels from it. Bezel-less displays could also mean the 12.9-inch model would be smaller as well. But while I think these would be welcome changes, I’m not sure they're change enough to turn around drooping profits.
Here’s the thing about the iPad: it’s a damn good product that lasts for a really long time. I purchased a secondhand original iPad Air (released in 2013) about a year and a half ago, and it’s still going strong. It’s great for the video streaming, word processing, and web browsing that I use it for, and I feel no need to upgrade to anything else. I know a good number of people that are still happy with their iPad 2. iPads are great for the casual stuff, and the casual stuff doesn’t require frequent upgrades. Tablet experiences, in general, seem to pander to casual users, so it shouldn’t come as much surprise that sales across the board have slowed down year over year. I don’t see a new screen size and smaller bezels changing that. What I do think would turn heads is if Apple created a more robust operating system experience specifically for the iPad Pro.
The iPad Pro was introduced with productivity and creatives in mind, but I think the main problem with the Pro is that even with support for accessories geared towards productivity, there’s still too many limitations in the current version of iOS. MacOS, on the other hand, also seems too complicated for the iPad. The Pro could feasibly run on something in between the two. I’m no expert here, but it just seems like the more powerful specs and features in the Pro deserves a more useful operating system than iOS, especially if Apple is going to keep touting it as a “PC replacement” when, for a lot of people, it isn’t.
Clearly Apple is still doing just fine as iPad sales are still good (just not as good), but this is how I see things as a consumer: Between the casual-friendly iPad and the productive prowess of a Mac, there’s nothing. The iPad Pro is the ideal candidate to be the middle ground between the two, but it still needs work to become a proper 2-in-1. That's where I think the money is right now.