Apple’s new iPad Pro is the twelfth iPad to be released since the original debuted back in 2010, and it borrows features from two of Apple’s existing tablets. The new iPad Pro has the size and weight of the iPad Air 2 — 9.7-inches, which Apple notes is by far the most popular of its three iPad size choices — while bringing over the power and accessories of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro launched last year. (Yes, the new iPad Pro and the existing iPad Pro have the same name — you’ll have to get used to identifying them by size.)
Apple now offers three sizes of iPad with multiple variants at almost every size. That’s a lot of iPads for sale. The problem is, Apple isn’t selling as many iPads as it used to. Sales of the tablet have been inching downward for years, and in Apple’s most recent quarterly report, iPad sales fell 25 percent from the previous year.
The thing is, the iPad is easily the best tablet on the market, regardless of which size you choose. And in a vacuum, the sales aren’t terrible: estimates have put the iPad Pro at higher sales than Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and many companies would kill to move the numbers of devices Apple does in just its tablet line.
New iPads haven't been much better than prior generations
But the iPad’s problem has been that while it’s better than any other tablet on the market, new iPads aren’t that much better than previous iPads. Unlike phones, which tend to get upgraded every year or two (and have been propped up by trade-in programs), iPad owners tend to keep their iPads for a really long time. If you bought an iPad 2 back in 2011, is the new iPad Pro’s Pencil and keyboard support enough to get you to spend $600 to replace that old iPad 2? The answer so far has been no: the thinner, faster, and higher-res options of the iPads that succeeded the iPad 2 have not been enough for most people to upgrade. The same pattern is borne out in the smaller iPad mini line — data shows that the most popular iPad mini is the first generation that came out in 2012, despite there being three generations of successors.
So if regular consumers are perfectly happy with their years-old iPads and are clearly not interested in upgrading them, who is the iPad for? And more specifically, who is this new line of Pro iPads for?
The answer seems to be people with old Windows PCs.
Senior vice president Phil Schiller pointed out on stage that there are over 600 million PCs in use that are over five years old, noting "that’s really sad." Ignoring the obvious irony that there are millions of five-year-old iPads still in use, it becomes clear that Apple doesn’t expect iPad owners to buy more iPads. It expects owners of ancient Windows PCs to buy them — particularly corporate IT departments.
There are myriad reasons why regular people are still using five-year-old PCs. Perhaps it’s because Microsoft’s radical changes in Windows 8 scared them off and Windows 10’s rollbacks haven’t been enough to entice them. Perhaps it’s because what they do on a PC — browsing the web, paying bills, watching Netflix, Skyping with relatives — is just as easy to do on an old PC as it is on a new one. Selling iPads to this group would be lucrative, but that doesn’t seem to be Apple’s play.
Apple wants to sell fleets of iPad Pros to business customers
A good chunk of five-year-old PCs are likely in use in business environments — clunky old Dells and HPs and ThinkPads that haven’t been updated in ages. Apple has been pushing to get the iPad into the enterprise market for some time, and it would love for all of those business users to swap them out for iPad Pros, whether it’s the 12.9-inch model or the new 9.7-inch version. That’s why Apple has been so keen to pitch them as productivity devices and went so far to build its own keyboard cases and stylus to go along with them.
Apple is very quick to tout the power and capabilities of its Pro line — Schiller spent valuable stage time on a deeply nerdy tangent about the new Pro’s anti-reflective display technology. The company is even selling a USB adapter for the iPad that can work with an Ethernet network adapter. Consumers likely don’t care about plugging their iPad into an hardwired network, but those business users that need to connect to the office network at their desk sure do.
The new iPad Pro isn’t ignoring consumers entirely — Apple upgraded the cameras and speakers compared to the iPad Air 2 and is offering it in four metallic finishes. And Apple will certainly be happy to sell one to any consumer that’s willing to pay the Pro price premium.
But if it wasn’t apparent before, it’s crystal clear today that Apple sees the future of the iPad in the conference rooms and airline seats of working professionals. Now it’s just a matter of getting the business world to bite.