iPad falls off a cliff

Apple announced stellar quarterly earnings again, as usual. iPhones are up. Macs are up. Apple Watch is… well, who knows, but Tim Cook says it’s good, per Apple expectations. iPad sales, however, are still falling off a cliff.

The interesting thing to me is how people are attempting to reconcile iPad sales vs. other Apple products. For awhile, analysts and writers have surmised that iPad has a longer life than iPhones, and in that I agree with them. It’s more expensive (although that’s not necessarily true with the dying of iPhone subsidization in the U.S.), it’s not most people’s primary device, and therefore the desire to upgrade it every year or two isn’t there.

The iPad is a nice-to-have. It’s not like the iPhone, which has quickly become a necessity1, nor like the Mac, which is still necessary for many tasks even in the “Post-PC world” that we supposedly live in. To date, I’ve purchased one iPad: an iPad 2, on its release date. It’s now the property of my daughter, and I don’t use it anymore at all. She, on the other hand, gets hours of Minecraft PE time with it, and loves it. Her expectations of it are lower than mine, and she’s more than happy with a four and a half year old iPad.

As the Apple hardware universe expands, I think fewer people are going to be able to or inclined to keep up. I’m still using an iPhone 5s, which was released in the U.S. on Sept 20th, 2013. I am going to keep using it for the remainder of this year, and then I plan to get an iPhone 6s Plus. Given the much better camera, performance, and screen size of that device, that might even be a three year device for me instead of an almost two and a half year device like my 5s is going to be before I’m done with it.

As for my Mac, it’s a 2011 Mac mini. I’ve upgraded it to 12 GB of RAM and an SSD drive to replace the horrendously slow 5400 RPM platter it shipped with, and it’s adequate for most things I do. It does take an eternity to export the 10-15 minute Minecraft videos my daughter and I make, but that’s fine. As long as it doesn’t burn itself up in the process, I’m ok with that.

And forget about Apple Watch – not only do I not feel like I want to spend money on one right now, it needs to improve significantly in a few key areas before I do feel like it’s calling my name. If iPad is a luxury, Apple Watch right now seems to me like a luxury plus, even considering its significantly lower cost for the sport edition.

The truth is, I cannot justify nor really afford nor want to afford to stay up to date on Apple products. We purchased the current model of Time Capsule this year after our previous one bit the dust, and we purchased the new Apple TV, which should be shipping any day. That’s replacing a 2nd ben Apple TV, which anyone who has one knows has long outlived its usefulness. It’s five years old, only does 720p video, crashes a LOT. I can justify the purchase of the new one because it’ll help ease the pain when we cut the cable on our Comcast TV service, and it’s going to be great for my daughter and I to play the types of iOS games we like playing together. I can also recoup half the cost or more of the new one by jailbreaking the old one, loading a few apps on it, and selling it on eBay.

I can’t believe I’m alone in this desire to lengthen the lifespan of my Apple products. I know there are other families out there who have educational and extracurricular child expenses, house projects to fund, and many other priorities for their money besides always having the shiny shiny. Yes, I do like the shiny shiny. If I could get a new 5k iMac without hurting our finances, I would do so immediately. If I could get a 6s Plus today with the same caveat, I would do so immediately. If I had enough extra spending money, I’d get the current iPad Air model immediately, and then get an iPad Pro as soon as it comes out. But I don’t live in that world. And it’s not like I have a poor income either. It’s just that Apple purchases add up very quickly, and it’s not worth sacrificing things the family needs all the time.

My theory on declining iPad sales is that iPad falls squarely into the “nice to have, not gonna spend on it again for a long time, if ever” category for a lot of people. It’s got a long refresh cycle because it’s just not THE mandatory device for most people, and it’s not cheap. I haven’t seen one analyst or writer even really consider why people don’t need to update them often, only the obvious statement that it’s obviously the case that they don’t. I think for normal adults who aren’t wealthy, but aren’t poor, who have family budgets, the reasons I’m not buying iPads are the same reasons they aren’t buying them either.

When Apple had three major products, it was much easier to keep more up to date on all of them. Now, it’s just not a sane way to live.

As a slight aside, Apple’s iPhone upgrade program seems even crazier to me than it would in years past considering I’m going the opposite direction and trying to get more, rather than fewer, years out of my iPhones.

  1. Yes, I realize how jerky and arrogant that sounds, for an iPhone to be a necessity when some people can’t get adequate water or health care, but there you go. We all adapt to our environments.