The iPad’s Difficult Business Proposition

When I linked last night to John Gruber’s look at the iPad’s tenth anniversary, I opted to focus on its fractured multitasking environment. But there’s another segment that deserves highlighting:

Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential. By the time the Mac turned 10, it had redefined multiple industries. In 1984 almost no graphic designers or illustrators were using computers for work. By 1994 almost all graphic designers and illustrators were using computers for work. The Mac was a revolution. The iPhone was a revolution. The iPad has been a spectacular success, and to tens of millions it is a beloved part of their daily lives, but it has, to date, fallen short of revolutionary.

Ben Thompson:

It’s tempting to dwell on the Jobs point — I really do think the iPad is the product that misses him the most — but the truth is that the long-term sustainable source of innovation on the iPad should have come from 3rd-party developers. Look at Gruber’s example for the Mac of graphic designers and illustrators: while MacPaint showed what was possible, the revolution was led by software from Aldus (PageMaker), Quark (QuarkXPress), and Adobe (Illustrator, Photoshop, Acrobat). By the time the Mac turned 10, Apple was a $2 billion company, while Adobe was worth $1 billion.

There are, needless to say, no companies built on the iPad that are worth anything approaching $1 billion in 2020 dollars, much less in 1994 dollars, even as the total addressable market has exploded, and one big reason is that $4.99 price point. Apple set the standard that highly complex, innovative software that was only possible on the iPad could only ever earn 5 bucks from a customer forever (updates, of course, were free).

Craig Hockenberry:

Universal apps are the worst thing that ever happened to the iPad.

The economics for developers are to make a big iPhone app or ignore the device altogether. No business model = no innovation.

A selection of iPad-optimized apps may continue to differentiate it from its competitors, but it has taken forever to get the biggest developers on board with creating real versions of their software for the iPad. You would have thought Adobe, in particular, would be clamoring to release a true version of Photoshop for the iPad, but it took them until late last year — and it’s still very much a work in progress. Microsoft was much faster, but it still took them over four years after the iPad’s debut to launch a compatible version of Office.

One thing these apps have in common is that they are now subscription-based. On that front, the App Store on the iPhone and iPad has been revolutionary. Apple first encouraged developers to price their iPad software far below Mac equivalents — GarageBand was $5 on the iPad, but Apple charged $79 for iLife on the Mac, of which GarageBand was one part — and has never had an official mechanism for offering paid updates through the App Store. Developers realized that they could instead offer their apps for free and require a paid account; Apple made this arrangement official in 2016. Neither the iPad nor the App Store are singlehandedly responsible for the software-as-a-service business model, but they have each been a beneficiary of it.

Unfortunately, the simplicity of buying a license to use a piece of software has all but vanished.