When in comes to tablets and computers, Apple has no strategy


Apple’s phone strategy is solid and sound, the iPhone will be a powerhouse for the foreseeable future. But when it comes to tablets and computers, their strategy, well, they don’t even have a strategy at all!

For the iPad, initially they were adamant that the iPad was strictly a tablet and they won’t attempt to turn it into a hybrid because toaster fridges are stupid, then the iPad Pro and now iOS 11 happened, so clearly they’ve changed their mind. I tried out the new 12″ iPad Pro yesterday and as excellent as it is (I gave the software a pass because iOS 11 isn’t out yet), it’s a poor excuse for a laptop. No USB C port, no trackpad (this company is famous for having the best trackpads) and the keyboard is a joke compared to a Macbook keyboard. So I read about what people think of the keyboard for the iPad Pros and one point I saw brought up many times was “Apple won’t put out a great macbook-like keyboard because they don’t want you to use the iPad Pro as a laptop, they want you to buy a Macbook if you want a laptop”.

But this just isn’t true! Apple REALLY doesn’t want you to buy a Macbook. They refuse to make touchscreen macs, and they know this is crippling. They are deliberately not putting out modern Macbook Airs, because they want you to buy an iPad Pro. The uselessly small mini Macbook (which is way over priced) still has a 480p FaceTime camera… I could go on and on.

It seems like Apple is having some kind of struggle, they don’t want to make a firm decision. So we have this mess, both the iPad and Macbooks aren’t ‘complete’. This is a real shame because I think an iPad Pro with a USB-C port and detachable Macbook keyboard would sell like hot cakes, I’d certainly buy one. Instead, I’m getting one of the Surface Pro clones that has a USB C port, which are magical, amazing devices. If you’re having a hard time choosing between a iPad Pro or Macbook, I suggest you do the same. The HP and Samsung look especially nice.

Comments (50)

50 responses to “When in comes to tablets and computers, Apple has no strategy”

  1. Chris_Kez

    Or perhaps they have a very clear strategy of keeping their iOS and Mac devices fairly distinct. This reduces the overlap between them and makes it easier for consumers to choose.

    As far as their "changing their mind" on the role of the iPad, I don't think they changed their mind. I think they only changed their message. I think they've had this vision for iPad for many, many years. But it takes a long time to get from the original iPad to where we are today, and the transition/growth will continue for a few more years. There was no benefit to promoting the iPad as a "hybrid" device three years ago; it was still hitting it's stride as a tablet.

    The iPad and Mac only look "incomplete" if you start from the assumption that Apple's goal is to have two product lines separated only by arbitrary size/form factor considerations. Their goal is not to have a single killer device, it is to have a range of devices that hit different price points and offer different performance/capabilities.

    This somewhat reminds me of the arguments about why Surface doesn't just add USB C, include the type cover, lower the price a little, etc., correctly noting that Microsoft would sell a lot more Surfaces if they did these things. All of that ignores the strategic goals and parameters which dictate that Surface is premium (even ultra-premium) and that it should not compete too closely with OEM partners.

    In short, I think we tend to confuse what we want with what companies want, and we assume that when they aren't giving us exactly what we want it is because they don't know what they're doing.

    • WP7Mango

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      Actually, it doesn't make it easier to choose at all between iOS and Mac, especially when the choice also includes Windows devices. When a person can look at any Windows device and touch the screen, including laptops, the question then becomes - why should I buy a Mac? I honestly can't see any reason why anyone would choose a Mac over a decent Windows 10 device. So then the question is, iPad or Windows device?

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to WP7Mango:

        I think a lot of it comes down to usage. I see a lot more Windows users have a portable machine as their only Windows box. While notebooks also make up a disproportionate percentage of Apple’s line, they seem to be more often used as portable workstations, where it’s a bonus that there’s a screen attached.

        Another factor is that Apple trackpads don’t suck eggs like the Synaptics and Elantech trash that PC OEMs use in their hardware. It’s not a pain in the ass to use the thing.

      • Bdsrev

        In reply to WP7Mango:

        Exactly, it's now iPad Pro vs Windows device for the majority of people, because once you get used to having a touchscreen, you can't live without it.

        • skane2600

          In reply to Bdsrev:

          YMMV. I had a touchscreen on a laptop and never used it. My wife liked it though. I just don't see the value of a touchscreen on a non-tablet.

        • jimchamplin

          In reply to Bdsrev:

          LIke the touchscreen on my Lenovo 2 in 1? Yeah, I use it sometimes, but then I sit at my Macintosh and don’t think twice. On the other hand, the idea of trying to muddle through iOS with an arrow sounds like ultimate tedium.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      IMO, the existence of the iPad Pro proves that Jobs was fundamentally wrong. He envisioned a touch-based tablet that would replace most of the need for a PC. A keyboard doesn't really fit in with that vision.

      He was against the idea of an iPad mini because he didn't believe it was large enough to be a PC replacement. I suspect he made the original iPad as small as he could and while still allowing it to be large enough to be effective.

  2. PincasX

    You post has two fairly common misconceptions:

    1. People misquote Tim Cook on Toasters and Refrigerators. When he made the comment it was in response to a question about the MacBook and iPad merging into one product line. He said they could but it was a bad idea. I haven't seen any evidence that he has changed is mine as the two are still distinct product lines.
    2. Apple has supported and made external keyboards for the iPad from day the first iPad shipped. It has also always supported bluetooth keyboards. The only thing that changed with the iPad Pro and keyboards is the addition of the smart connector as an additional method to connect one and Apple made a first party case with a built in keyboard. I'm always curious about the mental gymnastics that go into saying the smart keyboard cover someone represents a massive shift in direction when iPad always supported external keyboards.

    Apple has a strategy and there are legitimate gripes with it but this, like your other iPad thread, is just uniformed drivel.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to PincasX:

      It’s also cute when people forget that these organizations are made of thousands of people, any one of them or outside influences capable of convincing an exec to re-evaluate their decisions.

      Tim Cook didn’t get to where he is by being an egotistical jerk who can’t bend. Even Jobs was convinced to allow third party native software on the iPhone.

      I just have to chuckle when folks use previous (and oft-misquoted) words to act like these people don’t know know what they’re they’re doing.

    • Bdsrev

      In reply to PincasX:

      Lol, I'm not even going to waste my time

  3. hrlngrv

    Dunno about tablets, but Apple's strategy with microcomputers (Macs) of selling 5% of all microcomputer units and making 35% of all microcomputer profits doesn't seem all that bad to me.

    That said, I've never been able to see the value in Apple hardware for the prices Apple charges.

  4. rameshthanikodi

    I agree. IMO Apple should have added touch support to MacOS and then make the iPad run MacOS. The iPad Pro, even with iOS 11, can't replace a laptop. On the other hand, a Surface Pro can actually replace a laptop. With people buying large phones, I think there is no space for tablets like the OG iPad anymore. Everything people are saying about the iPad becoming a computer is hype and hot air.

    For their Macs, Apple needs to put out an actual successor to the Macbook Air, which is their most popular laptop, and give Macbook Pro users the pro features they want.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to rameshthanikodi:

      That sounds like a great recipe...

      For failure!

      The iPad doesn’t need to run macOS any more than the Mac needs a touchscreen. Perhaps I should remind you of Windows 8 and the way people whined about “adding touch to the desktop.”

      No? You remember? Good.

    • Brett Barbier

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      There are plenty of people who HAVE started using an iPad in lieu of a laptop completely. And there are plenty of others who can and do use an iPad instead of a laptop for a very sizable percentage of their computing needs, with the occasional requirement for them that forces them to use a laptop (or desktop) sporadically.

      For example, with a nice bluetooth keyboard, many writers exclusively use iPads.

      The iPad won't be able to replace a traditional computer for everyone, but it's not trying to do that.

      Personally, I went from having my laptop nearby when I was on the sofa casually watching TV to using an iPad. Now my laptop stays in my laptop bag, or it's in a docking station.

      The only time I really use it at home these days is to work remotely, or to do odd things such as reprogramming a Logitech Harmony remote if I add/remove devices to my home entertainment setup (and I've heard that newer models of their remotes don't even require plugging into a computer any more).

  5. wshwe

    Apple doesn't need much of a tablet and computer strategy. iPads still outsell Surface Pros. Mac sales are ok despite the lack of touchscreens. IMHO touchscreens don't belong on laptops. Laptop operating systems work best with keyboards and mice. Microsoft doesn't have USB-C on any of their Surface products.

    • skane2600

      In reply to wshwe:

      I mostly agree although IMO it's Surface Pros vs iPad Pros not any category of iPads.

    • dstrauss

      In reply to wshwe: "IMHO touchscreens don't belong on laptops." This is a valid, but short-sighted, opinion. Touch is just another input option, and works great on any laptop or desktop for specific uses, such as scrolling, pinch to zoom, selecting links, etc. The mouse gives you fine cursor control, selecting text, etc. If "efficiency in use" were the only criteria, you would ban the mouse and touch and glue peoples fingers to the keyboard.

      • Brett Barbier

        In reply to dstrauss:

        Apple's approach seems pretty clear...

        They have two main OSes, one of which (macOS) is very flexible and powerful, but with lots of complexity and legacy baggage that would have many issues to deal with to make it touch friendly, and another (iOS) that (in comparison) is more limited in functionality but is easier to learn and to use, with a touch-based interface built-in from day 1.

        I think I'm stealing this idea from Paul, but adding in functionality to iOS seems easier than making changes to macOS to be a touch-based OS.

  6. Angusmatheson

    I have used desktop software on an iPad - through various forms of desktop emulation. And the experience is terrible. Now touch based with a mouse and keyboard I bet would be great. I bet Apple never makes a touch MacOS - but I see a great future for touch based apps on Mac and/or ARM based iOS touch screen full laptops and desktops that do not run legacy Mac programs. This I think is the future “touch MacBook” an iOS device.

  7. Lauren Glenn

    Microsoft is also having similar trouble. They make their tablets to be too much like computers. :)

    I only used my iPad to consume video and watch podcasts/listen to music. That's all it's good at for me. If I want to do more, I grab my Surface.

  8. GT Tecolotecreek

    BDSREV, I think Apple's Q3/2017 results addresses your points:

    45.4 billion in revenue, with strong iPhone, iPad, and Mac sales.

    Up 17% YOY, beating market expectations.

    iPhone ASP was up due to iPhone 7 sales.

    iPhone 7 sales are outperforming iPhone 6 sales from a year ago.

    iPhone sales grew in Asia, Latin America and Middle East by more than 25%.

    iPad grew for the quarter, with highest global market share in over 4 years.

    iPad was 8 of the 10 top selling tables with 55% share per NPD

    iPad in education grew more than 30%.

    Mac sales again outpaced the PC market last quarter.

    Mac sales has year over year growth while the general PC market contraction of 4%.

    Apple Watch sales up over 50%

    Apple Watch is the #1 selling smartwatch in the world.

    Apple Services revenue up 22%, last 4 quarters close to 28B in sales. (Fortune 100 performance level)

    IOS App Store outsells Google Play by 2 times.

    Yep, one hell of a mess for a strategy.

    • Bdsrev

      In reply to GT_Tecolotecreek:

      If we are going by sales and profits, Apple can do no wrong, they are lucky that people will buy anything with that logo on it. But I and many like me don't care about sales and profits, I want Apple to make an iPad with a USB-C port and a proper keyboard with trackpad, not this silly, weird iPad Pro they are selling today. The current iPad Pro's aren't good enough and the current MacBook aren't good enough either. Use a Surface Pro for a couple of weeks and you will understand

      • Angusmatheson

        In reply to Bdsrev:

        I agree that just because they have lots of revenue and profits doesn't mean they are doing everything right. Look at Microsoft on the 90s. Balmer used windows monopoly of desktop OS (at that time basically all computers) to extract huge amounts of money. But didn't get the company ready for the next threat. I would disagree that Apple is doing that now. But one product phone is 65% of those business. This report which shows, finally, growth in tablet sales and revenue does seem to say that they finally have a working plan for tablets. The product that seems lost is Apple TV. After being an early leader in connected TV it is been completely eclipsed by Roku, Chrimecast, and connected TVS. Apple fans appear not to be Sheeple buying everything Apple when Apple TV is concerned.

        • GT Tecolotecreek

          In reply to Angusmatheson:

          Your absolutely right about Apple TV, the marketplace has chosen other products that provide better value for the dollar. So now Apple needs to refine their strategy to build a more compelling product or they will continue to fall behind.

      • GT Tecolotecreek

        In reply to Bdsrev:

        Your original post was their Mac & iPad strategy was a mess because no touch and no trackpad. The only litmus test for a business strategy is sales and profits, either it is validated in the market or not. This test, sales and profits, determines if the business is going to thrive or fail. The market has answered for this quarter, yes the marketplace likes the current Apple strategy. You can argue what pieces are driving the success, as in Paul T's assertion it's because they released a lower cost iPad, but your original point is invalid. They are growing in all their market segments. The old canard about people buying it cause it has an Apple logo doesn't explain the millions of new customers they continue to attract each year.

        Now let's apply the same litmus test against the Surface product line. Sales are down 26% last quarter. I haven't seen anything on Surface profitability, which MS may not disclose. So the market is saying the value is not their compared to the OEM products available. Do you really think the Surface line will continue long term if these sales declines continue the next couple quarters? Look at what happened to WP. Tactics like interest free financing don't address the fundamental problem, the product line is not competitive to what OEMs offer. Customer have spoken with their credit cards and aren't willing to pay the premium tax for the MS logo. If Paul T. is right about Apple pricing It would be interesting to see it applied to the Surface product line to see if it will stop sales from heading south.

        • Bdsrev

          In reply to GT_Tecolotecreek:

          Again, I was not referring to the commercial success of the products, why on earth would I care about that? The idea that, the best products sell well and the worst products don't sell, is laughable. People do not purchase things for the right reasons. A very large book could be written about all of the superior products and technologies that didn't sell well. People purchase things because of price (the lower the better), the physical appearance of the product, the brand image etc.

  9. Snowsky419

    The iOS vs. Mac division reminds me of the Lisa vs. Mac division...

  10. Locust Infested Orchard Inc.

    In reply to BDSREV:
    Quote: "When in [sic] comes to tablets and computers, Apple has no strategy"

    With the highly-respected master (RIP) no longer at the helm at the now seemingly barren Orchard Inc. (innovation-wise, though not $$$-wise), it may appear to the uninitiated that it has no strategy, however that would be an inaccurate reading of their dastardly plan, for their strategy is increasingly evident for all to see – their mantra is: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.

    Surface FTW. ????

  11. Bdsrev

    Good lord, I can't believe I missed a typo in the actual title of the thread. I need to start drinking coffee again. Obviously I meant "When it comes to tablets"

  12. wunderbar

    I think the strategy is pretty clear, actually. They envision the primary device being an iOS, not MacOS, device in the long term. Every step they have taken on the iPad and iOS in the past several years goes in that direction.

    The Mac meanwhile stays around because it is still needed for the heavy lifting. I would agree that the changes they are making to the mac don't always work, or are premature. the Macbook Pro going all USB-C is absolutely the future, but we're not at the future yet. The MacBook would be a fantastic device if it had a second USB-C port. The MacBook Air is only around because they can't get the cost of the MacBook down to $1000 yet.

    Now, you can absolutely make an argument that Apple's pricing is out of whack. I believe it is. But I mean, people keep buying their hardware in droves, so is the pricing really that out of whack if the market will clearly bear it?

    I truly believe that Apple is fully aware of the short term pain of their strategy, but does have a longer term vision in mind. It just isn't getting there fast enough for some people.

  13. jimchamplin

    Nah, strategy seems clear and sound: iOS is for consumer, creative, console-style gaming, and most productivity, but not all.

    Macintosh is for development, high-end creative and professional, and if the signals are right, they want to make a push into PC gaming and VR.

    I figure it’s only a matter of time before Xcode runs on iPad. At that point, the whole game has changed.

    • Bdsrev

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Oh come on, the product we are talking about here is literally called the iPad Pro! I'm not an anti-apple person, I actually appreciate the company more than most. I just want them to make a decision. An iPad Pro with a USB-C port and a proper Macbook like keyboard would be very disruptive, they need to just do it (I don't think it makes sense to try to transform macOS into a touch operating system)

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to Bdsrev:

        That’s fair, but I don’t see them going that way. I could definitely see an accessory, though. A hard keyboard case that turns it into a clamshell.

        Re: USB-C whether 3.1 alone or T-bolt 3 capable just seems anathema to the concept of the machine. Not saying it can’t or shouldn’t happen, just considering the idea of a wireless tablet.

      • dstrauss

        In reply to Bdsrev: It is clear to this outsider (iPad Pro 10.5 in training) that this is exactly where Apple is going - the iPP will supplant everything short of the MacBook Pro 15. Yes, even the MBP 13 is on the chopping block, probably a year or two after USB-C on the iPP. My bet is when the embrace USB-C on the iPP, they will introduce mouse support, and it will be game, set, and match.

        Why mouse support - because selecting text with gestures sucks compared to with a mouse - that is the only remaining roadblock, and that will be the tipping point.

    • skane2600

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Financially it sounds like the strategy you describe is a wash. Replace Mac sales with iPad sales. Even if Xcode runs perfectly on an iPad it would still be an inferior experience. Maybe if they made an iOS based all-in-one or a iOS based laptop it would measure up to using a Mac. But again, what's the point?

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to skane2600:

        Why would it be inferior? A properly designed IDE for iPad would be perfect for the user paradigm. Look at tools like Codea.

        • skane2600

          In reply to jimchamplin:

          Optimally you need a mouse and a keyboard. Yes, you can buy a keyboard for the iPad, but these sort of keyboards (and this applies to Surface devices as well) aren't particularly good compared to keyboards for desktops and laptops. Form-factors matter no matter how much the current fad is to pretend they don't.

          • jimchamplin

            In reply to skane2600:

            You need a mouse? For what? Selection? Navigation? Tasks also...

            You know what? Never mind.

            If the lack of a mouse still has you that riled up, just forget it. This is a hopeless discussion.

            Thanks for playing!

            • skane2600

              In reply to jimchamplin:

              Easy to say "just forget it". Do you use your finger to select text? Are you a master of navigating through a document using keyboard shortcuts? Why wouldn't you want to use a mouse or a trackpad when doing coding? What am I missing?

              • jimchamplin

                In reply to skane2600:

                It’s only perhaps, if putting things into numbers, 1/3 more convenient to use a mouse for text selection, in my opinion. It’s more precise, yes, but it requires I move my hand off to the side and I typically use key accelerators anyway. Opt + left and right jump one word at a time. Arrow to the line I want, then skip over to the spot and edit away. No reaching away from the keyboard.

                Mind you, I seldom use keyboard shortcuts any time other than working with text on a computer. Like, in Windows, I don’t use Win+x or whatever to open the power user menu. I just right click Start.

                And selecting text via touch isn’t difficult when the thing is handheld. It’s when I’ve got it paired to the keyboard and it’s arm’s length away that selection with touch sucks.

                A trackpad? Fuhgeddaboutit. As an owner of both of Apple’s Bluetooth pointers, the trackpad and the glass top gesture enabled Magic Mouse, each have their plus and minuses. One of them is that a trackpad is good for wide, sweeping motions, but zeroing in on something is less nice.

                • skane2600

                  In reply to jimchamplin:

                  If keyboard shortcuts work for you, fine. I don't think most developers would embrace that particularly since the mouse was the original defining characteristic of Mac computers. To me touchscreen and keyboard shortcuts are at opposite ends of the usability spectrum.

                  I don't like trackpads either, I just included them since some people do.