The iPad event has come and gone, and it left one lasting impression. Does Apple have a grand vision for the iPad? That question kept coming up in my head as I saw the iPad Air, and retina iPad mini unveiled. From the outside it sure seems that the answer is no, and I just hope that isn’t the case in Cupertino. The iPad has now reached its fifth generation, and the only real difference between the first iPad in 2010, and the iPad Air is that it’s thinner, lighter, faster, with a higher resolution display. It doesn’t take a visionary to slim down the device, put a better screen, and increase the processing power. How long can Apple continue with these minor upgrades, and are these the only upgrades they can come up with?
During the event, Tim Cook said the following, “Now, our competition is different: they’re confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they’re trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they’ll do next? I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you that we’re focused”. That was talking about the Mac, but it obviously ties into the direction of tablets, and the future of iPads. Apple claims they’re focused, and Tim Cook specifically said, “We know this is just the beginning for iPad”. That is definitely true, but is Apple prepared to write the next chapter? It’s true that we shouldn’t expect a revolutionary new product from Apple every year as even when Steve Jobs was the helm, there was the iPod in 2001, iPhone in 2007, and iPad in 2010, and in between just a number of incremental updates. Right now though, we’re questioning the evolutionary progress of the iPad line, not a whole new product line.
The iPad is ready to take the next step, but Apple’s going to need to do more than increase the processor, cut down the size, and improve the display. It’s also not as simple as Microsoft trying to turn tablets into PCs with keyboard accessories and desktop apps. If we have learned anything from the iPad so far, it’s that it excels when it’s running something that is better to be touched than used with a mouse and keyboard. For instance, when the first iPad launched, Apple demoed a touchable iWork suite with watered down versions of their desktop counterparts. The next year with the iPad 2, they showed off GarageBand with touchable instruments that can’t be replicated with a mouse and keyboard. When you look at the App Store, it’s the new ideas with touch gestures that stand out, and not simply ports of desktop software. Apple needs to take these ideas to the operating system as a whole. Right now, iOS 7 on the iPad is just like iOS 7 on the iPhone, again going back to just being a big iPhone without the phone. The only distinctions come when diving into the App Store.
It’s time for Apple to offer unique features for the iPad baked into iOS itself. Apple now has the processing infrastructure at 64-bit to bring desktop class software to the iPad, but in touchable form. It’s not about making Pages run on the iPad, it’s about making software that only the iPad can excel at. Does Apple have the grand vision of what that software is, or are they just going year to year looking at the next pieces of hardware to add to the device. At the moment it seems Apple has nothing much to add to the sixth generation iPad outside of a new processor, better camera, and TouchID fingerprint sensor, which are all yawn inducing. The iPad is capable of all new ways to make movies, play games, read books, create animations, develop blueprints, research databases, manipulate 3D objects, and so much more. The only problem is we’re restricted with what Apple has offered to the point. Apple refers to the iPad as a Post-PC device, but what does that mean to them. Is it a device for quick things like browsing the web, watching videos, and playing simple games, or is a device that lets you interact with digital files in a way a mouse and keyboard can’t?
We will see soon enough what Apple’s answer is to that question, but at the moment it seems Apple is focusing on the near term with no idea where the iPad line is headed.