Is the iPad Still Popular?

Man using iPad in Apple Store
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images News

The big news out of Apple during the third-quarter results was a 7% bump in iPad revenue over the same quarter last year. The tablet beat analyst projections, forcing the media to pause in hammering the last nails in the iPad coffin and greet the news with such resounding applause as CNET's "Apple iPad shows faint signs of life" and BGR's "Apple's iPad isn't dead just yet."

Faint signs of life? Not dead just yet?

Has the popularity of the iPad really fallen to the point where we are about to put it into the ground?

In the first quarter of 2016, Apple sold 10.25 million iPads. Let's put this number in perspective. The total tablet market was 39.5 million units that quarter, and that includes cheap $50 Android tablets that can barely do more than surf the web. It's also important to note that the iPad figure is based on actual sales while the rest of the numbers are guestimates based on the number of tablets shipped.

The second leading tablet sells is Samsung, who sold 6 million tablets that quarter. The third place winner is Amazon with 2.2 million tablets sold. The "not quite dead" iPad outsold the second and third best-selling manufacturers combined by a margin of around two million tablets.

But perhaps it is just tablets that are dying off?

Compared to all PC shipments, the 10.25 million iPads sold would make it the third most popular PC in the world.

Lenovo took first prize in the first quarter of the year with around 12.5 million computers sold and HP was second with 11.4 million. And this combines all desktop PCs and laptops that HP and Lenevo sold. Coming in just below the iPad was Dell with 9.1 million and then Asus with 4.7 million.

So with the iPad being by far the most popular tablet and the third most popular non-smartphone computing device in the world, why is the media lining up to go to its memorial service?

The iPad has seen a decrease in year-over-year sales for the last couple of years. This has led to financial analysts wondering about the long-term viability of Apple's stock, but what does the decline of iPad sales mean out here in the real world? Is it dying? Is it becoming unpopular?

The iPad isn't alone in declining sales. The entire tablet market has experienced a decline in sales over the same period. In fact, the entire PC market has been in decline for several years, so by the same logic, every computing device that isn't a smartphone is on its deathbed.

And the smartphone is on its way to the hospital. Now that the world is moving away from subsidized phones with 2-year contracts and towards bring-your-own-phone plans, the thought is that people won't be buying a new phone every two years. Which means -- yes, you guessed it -- "The Smartphone is Dead!" is coming to a magazine cover sometime in 2017.

Don't Let Your iPad Boss You Around!

Apple Has an Ace Up Its Sleeve. The Question Is When Will They Play It.

Two words: upgrade cycle.

The PC has it. The smartphone had it with 2-year contracts. The iPad doesn't have it. The only iPad that has become obsolete was the original iPad. Since 2011, there's been no need to upgrade your iPad.

The iPad 2 and the iPad Mini are the two most popular iPads, with the iPad 2 accounting for 20% of all iPads as of late 2015 and the iPad Mini accounting for 18%, That is over one-third of all iPads. In fact, if you count in the 10% market share of the iPad 3, you have almost one half of all iPads in the world.

Why is this important?

The iPad 2 and the iPad Mini are run by the exact same processor. And the only major difference between the iPad 3's processor and the iPad 2's is a faster graphics processor, which was needed because the iPad 3 was the first iPad with a Retina Display. So for the most part, they are all running the same CPU.

And they are all getting a little long in the tooth.

The iPad Pro is 12 times faster than the iPad 2. Let's put that into perspective. If the iPad Pro entered the 40-yard dash against the iPad 2, the Pro would be crossing the finish line around the time the iPad 2 had taken its fourth step. 3.3 yards. That's how far the iPad 2 would get before the iPad Pro was proclaimed the winner. And then we'd have to wait for the iPad 2 to pass the 10 yard mark. And the 20 yard mark. And after a trip to the concession stand for a Coke and some nachos, the iPad 2 would finally finish the race.

Apple stopped supporting the original iPad a few years ago. In the not-so-distant future, they will stop support for the iPad 2, the iPad Mini and the iPad 3. When they pull that trigger, it will signal to almost half of all iPad owners that it is time to upgrade.

Sure, the iPad's year-over-year sales have been sluggish, but this is mainly because Apple hasn't pulled that trigger. And Apple hasn't pulled that trigger because the iPad Mini was still being sold just a few years ago. No one wants to buy a tablet and then have it become obsolete two years later. But at some point, Apple is going to make that decision.   

The iPad 2 Becoming Obsolete Will Be the Best Thing Since the iPad 2

The iPad 2 as the bomb. That's why it was so popular. Retina screens and split-screen multitasking are great, but the iPad 2 doubled the power of the iPad, doubled the memory and added dual-facing cameras to the mix. It is the iPad we've all come to love, which is one reason why the iPad Mini was modeled after it and why both of them were so popular.

But if we absolutely must have a funeral for the iPad, let's hope it is for the iPad 2.

Right now, the vast majority of apps are written for the iPad 2. This includes games, productivity, etc. App developers want to bring in as big of an audience as possible, and when you consider that the processor running the iPad 2 accounts for about half of all iPad users, you can rest assured that they take notice.

In addition to being very slow compared to the iPad Air and iPad Pro line of tablets, the iPad 2 also has less memory. The original iPad had 256 MB dedicated for holding apps in memory. This isn't storage. This is the RAM used when you launch the app. The iPad 2 increased this to 512 MB and the iPad 4 increased it to 1 GB. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has 2 GB and the 12.9-inch monstrosity has 4 GB.

The death of the iPad 2 means two things: more speed and more memory for apps. And app developers actually developing for tablets with more speed and more memory. Which in turn means we'll get a lot better apps and games to run on our tablet.

And that may very well make the iPad cool again.

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