Is the iPad Still Popular?

Apple's shift to 64-bit apps moves iPad users to update

Apple stopped providing regular sales figures on iPads after 2018 but broke its silence in late 2020 to report that the company has sold more than 500 million iPads over the last 10 years.

Although the tablet market, in general, has declined from its heyday only a few years ago, the iPad still leads the way in sales and innovation.

The Facts

At the end of 2018, these were the facts:

  • The 9.67 million iPads sold in the fourth quarter of 2018 accounted for 34.9 percent of the tablet market share—more than any other manufacturer. Second-place Samsung held on to 15.1 percent of the market, while third-place Huawei claimed 10.3 percent.
  • In 2018, only Apple and Huawei showed an increase in tablet sales.

It's fair to say that the iPad is one of the most popular computing devices in the world, and certainly, the most popular tablet. So what happened with sales to cause all the uproar?

The iPad demonstrated its popularity with its second-quarter 2019 earning report—its best in six years.

Shopper using an iPad in the Apple Store

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images News

The Tablet Market Benefits From Upgrade Cycles

The iPad was slow to jump on the upgrade cycle, which accounted for some of its bad press. Because the tablet market was saturated, almost everyone who wanted an iPad already had an iPad. The only way to attract buyers was to offer them something better.

The iPad 2 and the original iPad mini were popular for years. They had a few things in common:

  • They both ran on the now-ancient Apple A5 processor.
  • Neither of them has a Retina display, Touch ID, or Apple Pay.
  • They don't work with the Apple Pencil or the new Smart Keyboard.

However, people still loved them. Why? Because they worked great. So why should they upgrade?

Precisely for the reasons just mentioned: Retina display, Touch (or Face) ID, and Apple Pencil compatibility. However, it took a major move from Apple to seal the deal on upgrades.

Move to 64-Bit Apps Made Half of iPads Obsolete

Although people loved the iPad 2 and the iPad mini, eventually the upgrade cycle caught up with many of them. Roughly half of the iPad models can no longer download new apps from the App Store. They also can't receive new updates to apps they already have on their iPad, which pushed many users to upgrade their iPads.

The reason? Apple dropped support for 32-bit apps. Apple moved to a 64-bit architecture with the iPad Air. Still, apps in the App Store maintained backward compatibility for a while with older iPad models by delivering both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. However, Apple no longer accepts 32-bit apps in the App Store. This translates to no new apps or app upgrades for owners of the iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, or iPad mini. (The original iPad has been obsolete for years now.)

Here's more about older iPad models becoming obsolete.

Why Is Apple Dropping Support for 32-Bit Apps?

Dropping support for 32-bit apps is a good thing for the iPad. Apps that are designed for the iPad Air and later models, including the iPad mini 4 and later, deliver more robust features. These models operate on top of 64-bit architecture, and they are faster and have more memory dedicated to running apps.

Apple draws a line in the sand for features like multitasking, which requires at least an iPad Air or iPad mini 2 for slide-over multitasking and an iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 4 for split-screen multitasking.

This translates to better apps for everyone, but it also means that owners of older iPad models are feeling the pressure to upgrade. With obsolete models taking up about half the market share of iPads in the real world, this translates to a decent bump in sales for Apple.

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