This Week in Tablets: Aside from the iPad Air, Apple’s big surprise was no surprise at all

October 26, 2013
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This week’s announcement of the iPad Air caught everyone by surprise, including me. Four things stood out to me about the products and the event itself:

1. The use of the “Air” designator establishes a new premium category for Apple’s tablet, and creates a clean break with the now older-generation iPads in both class and caliber.

2. This is a good thing for Apple, and will likely maintain some momentum for older iPad models like the iPad 4 through the holidays.

3. The 2,048 x 1,536 resolution screen means that the iPad Mini is now fully actualized. I expect it to sell at the same level as the iPad Air this holiday season—if Apple’s supply chain can keep up with demand. Rumors of tight supply may amplify demand and drive up pre-orders here, but ultimately could restrict sales.

4. The 4th quarter will be telling for the entire tablet market. If Apple breaks the 23 million mark, it means we’re still in a growth cycle in terms of tablet sales. If it plateaus, this may be signs the market is mature.

With all of the above in mind, Apple’s event offered indisputable proof that the iPad is the star of computing. That’s not likely to change soon.

Productivity is increasingly important…and Microsoft remains a threat

All this said, if you read between the lines of some of Apple’s software- and OS-oriented announcements this past Tuesday, it starts to become clear that despite a significant advantage, Apple continues to view Microsoft as a threatening force, albeit a vulnerable one.

Productivity is one of these perceived threat vectors. Apple’s announcement that iWork (and iLife) will come free with the purchase of all new iOS devices is a defensive gesture. With Office for iPad rumored to be in the works, and with Google having recently made Quickoffice free, Apple has been forced to protect the viability of its own office productivity suite.

Love it or hate it, Microsoft Office remains the standard in small, medium, and large offices across the world. It’s perhaps the one category where Apple still trails Microsoft by a significant margin. This is not likely to change anytime soon, but making iWork free may at least make consumers think twice about buying Office when it does debut on the iPad.

It’s also a defensive gesture aimed at sheltering the iOS-Mac OS ecosystem from Google. In the absence of MS Office, Quickoffice and Google Docs are the only real threat to iWork. Apple has ceded much ground in this category, and will have to work hard to protect its turf, and/or make competitive inroads.  (For what it’s worth, no one I know uses iWork on their iPad.)

Desktop operating systems are important also

Despite the general concerns and controversy around Windows 8, Microsoft’s Windows OS remains the dominant platform by far. Microsoft has never charged for incremental upgrades to the operating system. Now it appears that Apple won’t be doing so either.

The company’s decision to not charge for the newest version of Mac OS—Mavericks—is fairly surprising because Apple has previously charged $20 for the privilege. The decision does bring its desktop OS into line with Apple’s mobile-focused policies. It’s a customer-focused strategy Microsoft has adhered to for a long time.

Whatever the case, given how much money Apple makes, it’s not likely to hurt the company’s bottom line.

(For iPad news, apps and tips, sign up for the free TabImes for iPad newsletter)

6 Key questions left unanswered by Apple’s event

As TabTimes reported the day after the event, the rumor mill around Apple’s announcement day oversold the event itself a bit. To be fair though, Tim Cook shoulders some of the blame here. The Apple CEO’s announcement that “amazing” things were in store this fall fueled some of the enthusiasm that something bigger than a new iPad was forthcoming.

But you know—the iPad Mini with a Retina Display and the newly crafted iPad Air are pretty amazing in and of themselves. I know I sure want one of each.

However, the events of the last week have created some questions:

  • If Apple is releasing an iPad Air, will it eventually release an iPad Pro?
  • Why did Apple choose to not include fingerprint security on the iPad Air?
  • What happened to the Apple TV announcement everyone expected?
  • Will we ever see an iWatch?
  • If Apple is getting serious about iWork for iOS, will we someday see an Apple-powered iPad keyboard?
  • And finally, is Apple becoming a little too predictable with its presentations, as the New York Times’ Nick Bilton recently suggested?

I could speculate until I was blue in the face (and have in the past, repeatedly), but the truth is that all of the above questions will remain unanswered until Apple’s next big announcement

This week’s winner: Microsoft

Apple dominated headlines this week, but Microsoft appears to be holding its own with its Surface line of tablets. In its earnings report earlier this week, Microsoft reported that revenue for the Surface tablets hit $400 million for its first quarter of 2014, and that it sold “more than double” the Surface units it sold in the prior quarter.

Major discounts didn’t hurt, but $400 million in revenue is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s only half of the $900 million write off Microsoft was forced to take in July for unsold inventory.

This week’s loser: L.A. Unified Schools

Problems continue to plague the iPad deployment championed by Los Angeles’s Unified School District. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that L.A. Unified somehow forgot to include taxes and the mandatory recycling fee when it priced out its group iPad purchase, and the end result is that the devices will cost $100 more than originally planned.

(To keep on top o how tablets are used in schools in universities, sign up for the free Tablets in Education monthly newsletter)


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