The puzzling new iPads

This week Apple introduced a line of new iPads. I found the offering to be somewhat odd and puzzling. For a product category that’s been around so long, we should be seeing new models that do more and cost less. Instead we’re seeing iPads that cost more with few improvements to their functionality.

The new models have thinner housings, brighter screens, faster processors, and more colors. Sound familiar? That’s the same tired formula Apple has been using across all of their product lines for years.

Unfortunately, these are not the features iPads need to improve their usefulness. After fourteen years, iPads continue to simply be content consumption devices, due to the limitations of the operating system. iPads are great for reading, watching videos, emailing, drawing, editing photos, and exploring the web. But it’s hard to justify spending up to 20% more just for these hardware improvements that do nothing to improve the iPad’s usefulness.

iPads use a similar operating system to iPhones that’s built around apps. While there have been minor improvements over the years, such as adding a file management system and changing how windows are displayed, its functionality remains the same.

Apple seems to be holding back on iPad OS improvements that would make it a much more capable product, such as turning it into a touchscreen computer to rival the popular Microsoft Surface computer. To make those improvements it would need to abandon the app store and open the platform to third party software, much as they do with their Macs. But that would mean Apple would need to give up its 30% commission it gets from the sale of apps, perhaps too big a step for a company battling to defend its app store from regulators.

Yet, Apple continues to tease us by making iPads look more like computers with their accessory keyboards, larger screens, and faster processors – and even pricing them close to the cost of MacBooks.

Until it retools its operating system, it will remain an iPad with its limited capabilities, and the line will continue to languish. That’s fine if Apple wants to keep the products targeted to a different audience who likes the simplicity of an oversized iPhone. But then Apple shouldn’t price them like they’re full-fledged computers.

by Phil Baker