by Rob Enderle

What iPad Pro teaches vendors about product development

Nov 13, 2015
DeveloperiPadTablet PCs

Five years after the iPad sparked a revolution, the tablet market seems to be in free fall and PCs are making a comeback. In an attempt to revitalize the tablet market Apple just released the iPad Pro. Time will tell if this will work, in the meantime columnist Rob Enderle shares some lessons he says we can learn from the battle of tablets vs. PCs.

Back in 2010 Apple again did what they were by that time famous for doing. They brought to market a product revolution with the iPad and put all of the PC venders on notice that their business was soon to be gobbled up by this new platform.

Five years later the tablet market, and especially the iPad is in free fall and PCs are, at least relatively, doing far better. Apple just brought out the iPad Pro to address this fall and it’s not a bad product, but by the end of next year we’ll know whether it is too little too late to stop the decline.  

I think there are some lessons here that we can learn from.

Sometimes you have to cannibalize

The even less acceptable term is sometimes you have to eat your children. When Apple brought out the iPad it was clear users wanted to replace their laptops with it. However, because Apple wanted people to buy both iPads and Macs they made it difficult to work with the iPad and made it more of an entertainment product. This gave the PC industry time to respond and part of the cause for the current decline in tablet sales is because PCs have improved to a point where the price, weight, design and battery life are more in line with tablets. Now it is far less likely to see someone living off of an iPad than it was four years ago. Apple didn’t fully learn this lesson, however, because the iPad Pro still doesn’t have a trackpad, which makes it just a bit more annoying to use than a laptop.  

The mistake was intentional, the goal to cripple one product so that it doesn’t take business from another line. The problem though is that this tactic typically opens the door for a competitor to fill the gap you’ve created, and instead of protecting a product line it tends to cause customers to move to vendors who better meet these new needs.

In short it is always better, if the customers want a change, even though it means swapping one of your products for another, to embrace it rather than try to force the customer to buy two products particularly given they’ll likely revolt and end up with none.  

Tim Cook has now put aside his MacBook and is carrying an iPad Pro, if he’d promoted that same use case five years ago iPads wouldn’t be in decline, they’d likely own much of the laptop market by now. I should note that Apple still seems to be trying to protect their Mac sales from the iPad by leaving off the touchpad and USB ports. I expect their enterprise sales partners are strongly suggesting they reverse that decision for version two.

[ Related: Hands on: The iPad Pro — It’s a laptop! It’s a tablet! ]

Developers, developers, developers

One of the most infamous talks in tech was one given by Steve Ballmer of Microsoft [Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the writer] talking about how important developers were. Unfortunately, people made fun of him causing him to try to become someone else, I believe his failure was largely the result of that one decision. But he was right. Getting and holding developers has become the big reason iOS and Android are the powers they currently are.

What makes iOS different is that they also seemed to focus on making developers money, which made them more successful financially and more loyal. What I find fascinating is that Apple hasn’t created a strong iOS emulator for the MacOS. If they did their developer advantage on iOS would benefit the MacOS and Apple buyers would feel they could even more easily move between the two platforms.  

Users are king

One of the recurring mistakes in this industry is for a consumer-focused vendor to suddenly get the enterprise bug, invariably their growth stalls or they go under. The first example of this was Commodore that owned the PC business in the 1980s, but then ran after enterprise computing and as a result failed as a company.  

Over and over again we’ve seen users successfully reject products that IT wants and they don’t, then they bypass IT with products like the iPad. Apple is the first company I’ve seen to actually try to address this by partnering with enterprise companies while remaining consumer-focused. The jury is still out of whether this actually does work but, on paper, this allows Apple to continue to focus on the user and get the benefit available to them from enterprise sales without having to shift their focus to IT and the enterprise. Granted they’ll have to take some direction from their enterprise providers and there is, as yet, no evidence of that, but even so this is really very smart.

3 vendor lessons from the iPad

The three big lessons from the iPad are the following:

When given a choice, it is better if you cannibalize your products than it is if a competitor does.

Second, developers define the winners and losers, and these developers have to make money if you want to get and keep them.

Finally, regardless of what you make, the people that use the product are king. It often doesn’t matter how many features you include because if you don’t meet the users’ needs you won’t be able to hold your customers and you’ll go to that great vendor graveyard in the sky.