When Apple released their quarterly estimates earlier in the week, the thing that stood out for me immediately was the revelation that iPad sales declined about 23% from the same quarter last year. Later in the week, two blog posts, one from Dr. Drang and one from Kieran Healy, applied some statistical expertise to show more clearly the nature of iPad sales’ downward trajectory over its five year life span. Dr. Drang wrote:
I think this way of presenting the data makes the iPad’s situation much clearer. Sales are not ‘flattening,’ nor are they ‘flat.’ They were flat in 2013, but now they’re going down, and they have been for a year. What’s most interesting to me is how the upward trend, still very strong in 2012, just stopped dead in 2013. This is something you can’t see—or at least I can’t see it—in the graphs of raw data.
To me this confirms a situation that I speculated on last year, when the latest iPad models were just released and Apple was conspicuously quiet about discussing their sales performance. It may be premature to declare that the iPad market is fully in decline—it’s still very young and as many Apple writers have said, it’s still a massive business. But it’s clear that the numbers are no longer pointing up.
There’s no definitive explanation for why this is the case yet, but the most likely arguments are, first, that these devices have a longer natural upgrade cycle, or, less optimistically, that people just don’t feel that they’re essential enough to keep buying.
To me, the central issue is whether Apple is functioning as an effective steward for the iPad as a platform. Are they creating the right conditions for it to succeed? Are they innovating iPad technology, both hardware and software, quickly and aggressively enough? Is Apple setting the stage for must-have software on the iPad?
More practically, you could ask: are developers getting what they need in order to create breakout software specific to the iPad? Have we seen iPad-specific apps that are so compelling that consumers feel that they must own iPads in order to use them?
Sadly, for most people the answer to these questions would probably be “no,” and I think that’s the heart of the problem here. I still believe that there is so much potential in the iPad and I hope that Apple does too; if they do, they will need to demonstrate that belief in a more emphatic way in the near future.