Is the Era of the iPad Coming to an End?

apple_rainbow_logoFirst of all, it needs to be emphasized that the iPad is still selling: Apple reported 12.3 million units shipped in Q4 for its popular tablet device. That’s below expectations, of $13 million, and it’s lower than previous quarters, but it still isn’t a sign that the iPad is on life support.

Possible Explanations

Secondly, we also need to realize that there are multiple explanations for why the iPad isn’t selling like hot cakes like the iPhone is. (iPhone sales totaled 39.3 million for the quarter.) For one thing, Apple launched two new iPhone models this quarter, and demand for both is outpacing supply, according to Tim Cook.

For another thing, the culture around smartphones is just different than the culture around tablets. Most consumers replace their phones at least once every two years, picking up a new device when they are also able to sign a new two-year mobile carrier contract. Some buyers trade in their phones every year, though, which means that plenty of people go out to pick up the new iPhone on its first day of release each fall.

Tablets, on the other hand, tend to last a lot longer. Most people don’t use them as often as they use their phones, and as a result, the devices have lengthier lifespans. It’s not uncommon for consumers to hold onto a tablet for two or three years. Since the iPad is only four years old, there are probably more than a few users out there who bought one in 2010 or 2011, and still haven’t replaced it. As a result, Apple doesn’t see as many repeat buyers with the iPad as it does with the iPhone.

Too Many Options

Another explanation could be that Apple is shooting itself in the foot by offering too many versions of the iPad for consumers to choose from. To explore this possibility, CNET recently published an article titled “Why it’s harder to choose which iPad works best for you.” The piece found that Apple is currently producing and marketing five different versions of the iPad. Those five versions in turn have 56 possible configurations, what with different screen sizes, storage drive sizes, and more.

CNET’s argument is that, by trying to give consumers lots of options, Apple has actually made the iPad product line confusing for customers. People don’t know what the differences are between the different iPads, and that serves as a barrier to those people making purchases. This is especially true since Apple’s annual iPad updates are typically not as pronounced as its annual iPhone updates.

With all of this considered, the iPad is not dead. Apple’s device is still one of the most popular tablets on the market and will likely continue to play that role for years to come. However, given the longer lifespans of tablets and the confusion of the iPad line, Apple might do better to only release new versions of the iPad once every two years. Such a move would help Apple avoid the market saturation it is currently facing and might bring back a jolt of energy to the iPad’s lagging sales.