The Wall Street Journal just declared that Apple’s “surprising growth driver” is none other than the humble (and seemingly post-PC passé) Mac. While it’s true that the Mac is driving growth, it’s anything but surprising.
What is surprising is that the iPad has managed to hang on for so long as the second-largest revenue driver at the Cupertino company, given that it doesn’t really serve much of a need. And the Mac’s eclipse of the iPad might well be a warning for the Apple Watch.
Who Needs An iPad?
The biggest problem with the iPad is that it doesn’t do anything particularly well. Most anything I’d want to do with an iPad I can more easily do with my Mac or iPhone. I’ve seen people lugging their iPads around on hikes to take pictures of scenery and I’ve noticed people with portable keyboards hacking out blog posts, so I know some people think their iPads are useful.
But come on: those and most other activities are generally better on Apple’s other hardware. The WSJ’s Christopher Mims captures this feeling:
In our secret hearts we all know tablets are just phones crippled by a lack of 3G.
— Christopher Mims (@mims) October 16, 2014
I tried using my iPad—yes, I have two—for reading on trips, but I found it to be a distant runner-up to my Kindle Paperwhite. As such, my iPad gets used once each week—for church, of all things. (It’s easiest to pretend to be reading scriptures while actually checking Arsenal soccer scores.)
I’m clearly not alone. According to IDC, market demand for tablets has slowed, with Apple hardest hit. As consumers fumble for reasons to buy a tablet, cost trumps brand, hurting Apple’s premium sales strategy.
Meanwhile, Back In Mac Land …
Apple’s other products don’t run the same risk. At least, not the ones that are currently available for purchase.
Though tablets threatened to displace desktop and laptop computers, they haven’t even dented them. The reason is utility. The WSJ notes several reasons for the Mac’s steady rise, even amid an industry-wide slump in Windows PCs:
Several factors have contributed to the Mac’s steady rise in the last eight years: a halo effect conferred by popular Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad; a decision to stop charging for updates of Mac operating software; high visibility through the company’s own retail stores; and Apple’s introduction of innovative designs like the MacBook Air at lower prices than the company usually charges.
Meanwhile, phones are actually threatening to displace tablets. Christopher Mims enumerates a long list of things the smartphone has replaced. My Kindle Paperwhite has replaced physical books for me, but that’s the only thing tablets have done better for me—and it’s a special-purpose tablet, not the iPad’s jack-of-all-apps approach.
So, About That Apple Watch
Which brings me to Apple’s forthcoming Watch. Like a tablet, Apple’s Watch risks being a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. Once it adds GPS, I can envision it being an excellent replacement for my iPod/iPhone (music) and Garmin (GPS/heartrate) while exercising, but is that a big enough market for Apple?
There are, after all, only so many people who want to track every mile and every calorie of their exercise regimen. It will definitely be bigger than the market for the Apple TV streaming box, but I can’t see it sustaining iPhone-worthy sales for more than a year or two. Then the excitement will die down and people realize will that there was a good reason they’d already ditched their watches to tell time using their iPhones.
Apple’s iPhone revolutionized what a phone meant. It changed the way we communicate with each other, get directions on trips, book restaurant reservations and more. The Mac, 30 years in, doesn’t revolutionize anything but the tired PC experience.
For the iPad and the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch, it’s unclear how they materially change our lives to the point that we’ll shovel money into Apple’s bank.
Lead photo courtesy of Apple