I was a die-hard Apple iPad fan. Not anymore – here’s why.

  • Former Apple executive Michael Gartenberg owns an iPad Pro and has owned several iPads over the past decade.
  • His iPad used to be his constant traveling companion, used more than his laptop – but not anymore.
  • He says the iPad is at a crossroads between failure and continued success, and Apple should pay attention.

In 2011, after about a year on the market, the iPad was declared an instant — and somewhat shocking — success, with about 15 million units sold and $10 billion in sales in its first nine months. And Apple was riding a victory lap over the many, many media critics who had predicted it would fail.

It was a game changer at the time as it offered a large, high-resolution touchscreen in a compact, portable form factor that was ideal for consuming media, browsing the web, and running a variety of apps. This was in an era when even the smartest phones were terrible at those features and where laptops didn’t have touchscreens and were often clunky, with short battery life.

As a technology analyst and writer, I then bought my first iPad and loved it. It was my constant traveling companion and at one point was even used for my productivity needs instead of a laptop.

But a lot has changed in the smartphone world and the most important part of the iPad hasn’t kept up.

Today I’m using a Galaxy Z Fold4, which transforms from a 6.1-inch smartphone into a 7.8-inch tablet (about the size of an iPad Mini), and a MacBook Air, which has spectacular performance and battery life.

I still have an iPad Pro, but I hardly ever reach for it. It’s a cool device and much better than what was introduced in 2010. At the same time, it is a jack-of-all-trades but master of nothing, so I can no longer justify its existence as part of my ecosystem. I’m sure I’ll eventually give it to a kid in my family so they can watch “Sesame Street” videos on it and draw pictures on it. It’s a great tool for both, albeit a little pricey for the tasks.

From my very trusted point of view, the current state of the iPad is a testament to its limitations and the challenges it faces.

A stack of Galaxy Z Fold 4 foldable tablets

After ten years, Gartenberg no longer uses his iPad, but his much more versatile and travel-friendly Galaxy Z Fold4.


Powerful hardware, frustrating software

One of the biggest problems with the iPad is that the hardware is becoming more and more overpowered in relation to the apps available for the device. With each new iteration, the iPad has gotten faster and more capable, but the quality and quantity of iPad apps haven’t kept pace, despite Apple’s promises of “desktop-class” apps for them (whatever those are).

So iPad users, like myself, pay a premium for hardware that is much more advanced than the software we can run on it. This situation is exacerbated by Apple’s treatment of developers. If they have ideas for new iPad apps, they’ll have to shoulder the development costs, only to later pay a 30% “Apple tax” (Apple’s cut of their revenue) and increasingly volatile App Store rules.

If Apple plans to turn the iPad into a truly capable device with top-notch apps, it’s going to have to take developer relationships much more seriously. Developers shouldn’t do that appeal to social media to draw Apple’s attention to highly subjective App Store rules and quirks.

Another major problem is that the user interface, based on iOS, has become more and more complicated over time. With each new release of iOS, Apple has added features and functionality, making the operating system more powerful but more complex. This has made it harder for users to find the features they need, leading to confusion and frustration.

Here are just a few examples. The iPad supports a wide variety of gestures, including swiping, pinching, and tapping, which can be used to navigate and interact with apps. But many users find these gestures difficult to learn, and they’re not obvious without some explanation or guidance beyond what the iPad has to offer.

While the iPad is highly customizable, the process of tweaking settings and preferences is more than a little mysterious. Configuring things like the “dock”, the “control center”, and your notifications can take some time to figure out, and the options are buried deep under the settings.

iPad’s accessibility settings let you create custom gestures that can be used to perform a variety of tasks. For example, you can set a gesture that gives you quick access to the app switcher or a gesture that lets you quickly enable or disable a specific setting. But setting up these custom gestures can be a bit difficult as you have to navigate through the accessibility settings to know if they exist.

“Stage manager,” the iPad’s new showcase feature for multitasking, isn’t even enabled by default. It’s hidden – and for good reason. It’s difficult to use and I would have to write a full review to describe how horrible my experience has been with it.

An in-depth review from MacStories’ Federico Viticci tells you everything you need to know: He spends most of his time venting about his inability to get the feature to work without crashing his entire system. The fact that you need an extensive review to describe this feature in the operating system shows how far Apple has strayed from the “it just works” mantra of the Steve Jobs era.

ipad 9th generation with apple pencil

The iPad is great for kids’ drawing and apps, but a little pricey for those activities.


A touchscreen MacBook would kill the iPad

My final concern is that the perception of the iPad as a secondary device is reinforced by the recent rumors of a touchscreen MacBook.

If such a device were to hit the market, it would likely offer many of the same features and capabilities as the iPad, but with an operating system that has supported powerful business applications for decades – everything from Adobe’s creative applications to Microsoft’s Visual Studio, or for that matter, Apple’s own app development platform, Xcode.

Presumably it would arrive as a touchscreen keyboard situation, a form factor more familiar and traditional to laptop users. This would make the iPad practically obsolete. Pretty much anything you could do on an iPad would now be possible on a Mac, while the reverse wouldn’t be true. While the iPad would still be fine for browsing the web or watching videos, it wouldn’t be as capable as a MacBook for getting real work done, and an iPhone, even with a large screen, is more portable and just as nice for consuming media.

Now I realize that the iPad was the shining star in Apple’s last reported quarter (October to December, including the holiday shopping season). It was the only Apple segment whose revenues did not decline, reaching $9.4 billion compared to $7.76 billion the previous year.

But overall iPad net sales fell to $29.3 billion in the previous full fiscal year (September 2021 to September 2022), down 8% from the same period last year. Whether that was a trend or an anomaly, we’ll have to wait to find out.

I think the iPad’s great holiday season had to do with a new, more expensive iPad Pro being introduced earlier that year, as opposed to a trend of increased iPad sales and popularity. For example, in the fourth fiscal quarter of 2022 (the three months ended September 24), iPads brought in $7.17 billion in revenue, down from $8.25 billion in the same quarter a year ago, which is much more in revenue. consistent with how the iPad has performed over time.

If Apple is to continue to succeed with the iPad, it will need to address these challenges head on. This may mean simplifying the iOS user interface, investing more in developing iPad-specific apps, and focusing on the internal software to better leverage the strengths of the iPad hardware.

Whatever the solution, it’s clear the iPad is at a crossroads, and the decisions Apple makes in the coming months and years will be critical to its continued success.

Michael Gartenberg is a former senior marketing executive at Apple and has followed the company for more than two decades as a market research analyst at Gartner, Jupiter Research, and Altimeter Group. He is also an Apple shareholder. He can be reached on Twitter at @Gartenberg.

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