The iPad’s biggest flaw: It’s too perfect

Some of the world’s biggest technology companies are facing an unusual and costly problem: their products are proving too good to replace.

Sales of traditional tablet computers are falling and are tipped to drop further, even though their use and usefulness have never been higher.

Apple and Microsoft are now planning a tablet comeback, with both launching new products this month, but analysts are still debating what it will take to get tablet buyers in store and spending again.

Australians, for example, bought 1.64 million tablet computers in the last half of 2016, according to technology consultancy firm Telsyte, most of which were Apple iPads.

But iPad sales fell nine percent during that period, and Android tablets tumbled 13 percent. Similar sales drops have been seen worldwide.

Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi says only two-in-one-style Windows computers grew in popularity, as people sought to replace their laptops with something more versatile.

“Tablet sales have slowed since their peak in 2013 as fewer Australians have seen the need to replace their existing devices,” Fadaghi says.

“However, this is changing, with support for older models ending and functionality of newer tablets improving.”

Australians were most likely to upgrade their tablet for a computer they could also use for work purposes, Fadaghi says, or if the software on their existing tablet was no longer able to be updated.

As such, Telsyte is forecasting “modest growth” in tablet sales this year, he says.

But the picture is not as rosy worldwide. Gartner expects tablets to continue to fall in popularity, dropping 8 million in sales this year compared to 2016, and down 12 million by 2019.

Apple plans to turn these predictions around with two new high-powered iPads.

Chief executive Tim Cook launched new iPad Pro models at its annual developers’ conference — one with a bigger screen inside a similarly sized body, and another with a 12.9-inch display.

In addition to being entertainment devices, they are designed to substitute for laptops, with more processing and graphical grunt, as well as new software that will show off the iPad’s file system for the first time, and add a host of multi-tasking features.

When iOS 11 software is released in the spring, users will be able to create file folders, for example, and drag photos or text from one app into another.

“iPad has completely changed the way we work, play, teach, learn and create,” Cook says.

“We’ve been pushing the boundaries on iPad and … we’re going to push them further than ever before.”

But as Apple tries to win over buyers with more businesslike features, Microsoft is moving in the opposite direction.

Its new Surface Laptop will come with a new operating system called Windows 10 S that uses apps rather than programs, taking a leaf from Apple’s iOS playbook, and increasing its battery life.

The $999 laptop is designed for students but it’s likely to win a wider audience, particularly after Microsoft’s Surface devices beat Apple for customer satisfaction in JD Power’s recent Tablet Satisfaction Survey.

JD Power service industries vice-president Jeff Conklin says the fact Surface tablets “are just as capable as many laptops” won approval from the most buyers.


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