Tablet sales have been suffering in recent years and Apple’s iPad has been bearing the brunt of that. Since 2013, sales have petered out and slumped a little bit along with revenue sliding according to some of the more recent figures.
As smartphone screens get bigger, and with the advent of the “phablet”, they have become dangerously close to rendering tablets obsolete. Even Apple itself knew this when it went big last year with the iPhone 6 Plus, with its 5.5-inch screen. For comparison purposes, the iPad Air 2 was 9.7-inch. And with greater access to video content via a smartphone, why would a user buy a new tablet?
Analysts have sounded the death knell for tablets in recent times and Apple has reinvigorated the MacBook with a new model this year too. Yet yesterday, Tim Cook and co. unveiled the iPad Pro, Cupertino’s gambit for reviving the iPad for a new audience.
First of all, it’s the biggest iPad to date at 12.9-inch and the biggest iOS device ever while there have been some new accessories added too (more on that later).
Apple isn’t alone in its attempts to shake up the tablet business again. Microsoft’s Surface tablets are a couple of editions deep now and it is expected to be releasing the Surface Pro 4 later this fall, most likely in October. It has some newfound competition in the iPad Pro but has the range of Windows tablets succeeded in creating a more welcoming market for tablets?
Back in July Microsoft posted its quarterly earnings, which showed that Surface tablet sales (along with Xbox sales) had increased on the previous year. Surface revenue was up some 117 percent according to the filing, a figure that flies in the face of the doom and gloom that’s been predicted for tablets. Most recently Microsoft announced that it is expanding the distribution programs for Surface tablets to include Dell and HP.
“Surface is clearly a product where we’ve gotten the formula right, earned fans, and can apply this formula to other parts of our hardware portfolio,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The Surface tablets have found particular success in the education sector, according to Microsoft.
Apple iPad Pro bears some similarities to tablets like the Surface Pro 3, the most recent in the range which was released in June of last year.
For one thing, the iPad Pro comes with a new add-on in the form a keyboard cover, which looks very similar to the Surface Pro 3. But once you drill down to specific features, you’ll find a mixed bag of features and could this signal a reigniting of the tablet battle?
A lot has been said of the iPad Pro’s large 12.9-inch screen, with 2732 × 2048, as it’s impressive. This compares with the Surface Pro’s 12” 2160 × 1440 screen so Apple wins out here but what could Microsoft have planned for the Surface Pro 4? At the same time, how big can you go with a tablet?
The iPad Pro is the biggest to date and Apple boasts “desktop performance” under the hood. It claimed that it would be 80 percent faster than most laptops during its keynote on Wednesday, adding that the tablet’s new A9X processor was 1.8 times faster than the A8X, which was 1.5 GHz. The Surface Pro featured different versions of Intel’s Core i processors, ranging from 1.5GHz to 1.9GHz. Apple hasn’t budged on how much RAM its new device has but murmurings suggest 4GB.
The iPad Pro comes with 32GB and 128GB storage options, the Surface Pro 3 between 64GB and 512GB. For the camera, the iPad has a 1.2 megapixel front camera and an eight megapixel rear camera compared to Microsoft’s five megapixel, front and back. As for battery life, you’re looking at 10 hours (iPad) and nine hours (Surface) and starting prices are all around the same $799 mark.
Apple has attempted to lure users back to the iPad with several nifty features and the large screen as well as the addition of a stylus, simply named Apple Pencil. It’s a head scratcher in one sense. At the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs famously denounced styluses as a tool for using a device, instead opting for touchscreens and smartphones have never looked back since.
Will the Apple Pencil differentiate the iPad Pro enough? The new MacBook is still fresh on people’s minds and accomplishes many of the same things when it comes to portability.
The most telling rivalry is yet to come though. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, which will be the first to run Windows 10 fresh, is expected to land this fall. Rumors are naturally running wild. How much memory will it have? Will it too have a new stylus? And what kind of special add-ons and novelty features will we see to make it stand out? We’ll have to wait and see.