Is the iPad Still Popular?

Man using iPad in Apple Store

 Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images News

A common theme in the media these days is the declining sales of the iPad, but what tends to be missed are the declining sales of Android tablets and the tablet market as a whole. Is it fair to say the iPad is no longer the popular computing device and PC alternative that it was just a few short years ago? Is the tablet market as a whole on the decline?

Or is the iPad actually one of the most popular computing devices in the world? Let's look at a few facts:

  • The 8.9 million iPads sold in the first quarter of 2017 accounted for almost one in four tablets sold and outsold the next two manufacturers combined. Samsung sold 6 million tablets and Huawei sold 2.7 million.
  • Compared to the PC market, the iPad's 8.9 million in sales would rank it fourth, just behind Dell's 9.35 million. Lenovo with 12.3 million and HP with 12.1 million lead PC sales.
  • Apple's Mac line of desktop and laptop PCs accounted for 4.2 million, or put another way, less than half of all iPad sales.

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

The tablet market as a whole sold 8.5% fewer units in the first quarter of this year as opposed to last year. Apple's iPad dropped 13.5% in sales compared to last year. One thing to note when comparing these numbers is that Apple reports actual sales of the iPad while Android's sales are estimates based on shipping. But any way you slice it, the numbers show Apple taking a beating, don't they?

In the first quarter of 2016, it had been two months since Apple released its latest iPad, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. In the first quarter of this year, it had been nine months since the release of the 9.7-inch Pro. This disparity in the release cycle combined with the overall trend of the tablet market can explain why Apple dropped slightly faster than the market as a whole.

The Tablet Market Is Still Waiting for an Upgrade Cycle

The PC has it. The smartphone has it with 2-year contracts and pay-as-you-go plans. The iPad is still waiting for it. The tablet market is saturated. Almost everyone who wants an iPad already has an iPad, so the only way to get them to buy is to offer them something better, right?

Not quite true. The iPad 2 and the original iPad mini still account for around 40% of the iPad audience. Here are a few things they have in common: they both run on the now-ancient Apple A5 processor, neither of them sports a Retina Display, they don't have Touch ID or Apple Pay, and they won't work with the Apple Pencil or the new Smart Keyboard.

But people still love them. Why? Because they still work great. So why should they upgrade?

Around Half of All iPads Are About to Become Obsolete

People may love the iPad 2 and the iPad mini, but that love may be short-lived. Roughly half of the iPad models being used in the real world will soon find that they are no longer able to download new apps hitting the App Store. They also won't be able to receive new updates to apps they already have on their iPad. This should push many to finally upgrade.

This will happen when Apple drops support for 32-bit apps. Apple moved to a 64-bit architecture with the iPad Air, but apps in the App Store are able to maintain backward compatibility toward older iPad models by delivering both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. This is about to change. As early as the end of 2017, Apple will no longer accept 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 a few years now, although it still has its uses.)

Here's more about older iPad models becoming obsolete.

Why Is Apple Dropping Support for 32-bit Apps?

It is actually a very good thing for the iPad. Apps that are designed for the iPad Air and later models, including the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4, will be capable of delivery much more robust features. Not only do these models operate on top of a 64-bit architecture, but they are also faster and have more memory dedicated to running apps. Already, Apple draws the 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 will start feeling the pressure to finally upgrade as we get into 2018. With these models taking up about half the market share of iPads out in the real world, this should translate to a decent bump in sales for Apple.