iPad sales are awful. Truly awful, and while CEO Tim Cook might be bullish about the tablet's future, Apple desperately needs to do something to turn sales around if it's going to come off life support.
"We've got some exciting things coming on iPad," Cook said during Apple's last financial conference call, "and I'm optimistic about where things are headed."
While this could mean a lot of things, what this is likely to mean is a hardware refresh, especially given how stocks of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro seem to be dried up to where shipping times in the United States, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, and elsewhere have jumped to the 2 to 3 week mark.
When could this refresh happen? Well, during the Q1 2017 financial conference call Cook said that "beyond the 90-day clock, I'm very bullish on iPad." This to me suggests that we're not going to see a refresh happening during this quarter, or at the very least new iPads won't ship until the end of March at the earliest.
Rumors are all over the place, with everything from the end of March to the middle of 2017.
But when it comes to giving iPad owners reason to upgrade, the rumors don't deliver. It seems to be more of the same -- faster processor, new 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch displays which feature the same True Tone technology found on the 9.7-inch iPad, 12-megapixel camera, and such.
Basically all just evolutionary upgrades which you'd expect from a mature product. If iPads were already selling well, theses types of upgrades would be enough to keep the iPad relevant, but with sales having fallen to where they are now, I think it's too little, too late.
Even iOS 10 making some 40 percent of all iPads in use at that point obsolete hasn't been the catalyst that encouraged existing owners to part with their cash for new hardware.
So what's the problem?
The bottom line is that the iPad is plagued by two issues.
The first is that it's overpriced compared to other tablets. For most casual users, an Amazon Fire tablet will do everything they need at a fraction of the price.
Secondly, for professional and business users, the lack of a mouse or trackpad makes the iPad a poor choice for working on spreadsheets and the like. Apple's made the device more friendly to creative and artistic types with the Apple Pencil, but that market doesn't seem to be as lucrative as Apple had hoped it would be.
Will Apple drop the price of the iPad? I doubt it. The company is heavily focused on squeezing as much cash as it can from its lineup, and if anything it's doubling down on the higher-end stuff at the expense of the cheaper stuff.
As to adding a trackpad or mouse support, again I don't think this fits in with the direction that Apple wants to take the iPad in, and that would bring it too close to being a Mac, which would resurrect that old discussion about Mac tablets again.
My best estimate says that this time next year, Apple will be looking at iPad sales that are some 10 to 15 percent lower than what they were the year before. And that puts the iPad on very shaky ground indeed.
Apple iPad or Amazon Fire: Which is the best holiday tablet?
When it comes to tablets, the two that I hear the most about from consumers are Apple's iPad and Amazon's Fire range. It's pretty much like everyone else has given up on tablets and left the market to these two behemoths.
But which offers the best holiday tablet?
The first thing to bear in mind is that both the iPad and the Fire are a range of tablets. Here they are in order of size (and price).
iPad Pro 12.9-inch - prices starting at $799
iPad Pro 9.7-inch - prices starting at $599
iPad Air 2 - prices starting at $399
iPad mini 4 - prices starting at $399
iPad mini 2 - prices starting at $269
Fire 7 - prices starting at $49.99
Fire HD 8 - prices starting at $89.99
Fire Kids Edition - $99.99
Fire HD 10 - Prices starting at $229.99
For many people, price is going to be a deciding factor. And for the casual user, Amazon's offerings at under $100 are impossible to beat, and the tablets represent excellent value.
But here are a few things to consider:
If someone is already in one ecosystem or another (say they already own an iPhone, or they buy all their content from Amazon) then that will steer the choice towards one company or another.
The accessory ecosystem for the iPad is massive, while that for the Fire will be far more modest (limited mostly to things like cases and such). Support for cool gadgets such as IoT lightbulbs and doorbells and light switches will be almost non-existent for the Fire. Same goes for medical and health stuff.
Take storage into consideration. With Apple, you get exactly what you pay for in terms of storage and there is no option to increase storage using a microSD card, and iCloud costs extra. With Amazon, you can pop a microSD card into all the tablets to boost on-board storage (up to 200GB), plus you get unlimited Amazon cloud storage for Amazon content.
Amazon's Fire tablets are all Wi-Fi only, while Apple offers Wi-Fi + cellular versions for all of its tablets. A real consideration for anyone planning to take their tablet on the road.
Amazon's Fire Kids Edition is great for youngsters, because not only do you get a cool bumper case to prevent damage, and pretty neat parental controls, but you also get a 2-year "worry-free" warranty where if the tablet gets broken, Amazon will just replace it, no questions asked.
Fire tablets are, on the whole, more robust than iPads. Amazon goes as far as to tumble-test them for durability, which is handy if they're going to be dropped on the floor, sat on, and used as stakeboards by toddlers.
For a work/BYOD setting, the iPad is likely to be better supported than any of the Fire tablets.
Digital content is easier to find on the Fire tablets (it floats up right to your front screen), while on the iPad it's spread across multiple apps. This makes the Fire a better choice for those who are less technical or have less patience or willingness to learn new things.
Amazon does show ads on the lockscreen of the Fire tablets - it calls these special offers - and it will cost you an additional $15 to get rid of these (although personally, I don't find them intrusive).
There is an app-gap between the iPad and Fire, with iPad having the broadest range of apps on offer.
When it come to technical specs such as processor speed and screen pixel density, I really wouldn't worry about it. IT's clearly a case of "the more you pay, the better the hardware." Also, don't worry about trying to compare the specs between iPad and Fire, you'll just get bogged down because mostly it's like comparing apples to oranges.
Bottom line, beyond giving you the facts, the final decision is down to you.
Here's why the iPad Mini 2 still makes a great gift
The iPad Mini 2 is Apple's oldest and most affordable iPad still in Apple's tablet lineup. It hits that sweet spot between what it offers and what it costs. And it's a great gift to give (or get for yourself) this holiday season. Here's why.
It's an iPad
The iPad is still the gold standard for tablets. It's defined by its elegant design, long battery life, fast performance, simple operating system and access to Apple's App Store -- all of which make iPads a great gift.
When the first iPad Mini debuted in 2012, people were drawn to its small size, light weight and low price, at least compared to a full-size iPad. But it lacked one crucial feature: a Retina display.
In 2013, the iPad Mini 2 arrived with a Retina display, and the problem was solved.
The iPad Mini 2 runs iOS 10, Apple's latest mobile operating system. You get features like picture-in-picture (when watching videos) and slide over (a tab slides over from the screen's edge to allow momentarily use of another app). That's as well as the ability to send iMessages, make FaceTime calls and have access to all those iPad-optimized apps.
Like other iOS devices, the iPad Mini 2 connects you to Apple's content ecosystem. So any previously purchased iTunes books, music, movies, TV shows or apps can be accessed -- something you can't do on Android tablets.
It's cheap for an iPad
Historically, the iPad has always had a big downside: price. That doesn't bode well for a gift budget. Apple's answer for thrifty gift givers is to offer older models at a discount.
The iPad Mini 2 costs $269, £239 or AU$369. It can sometimes be found on sale for as low as $200 in the US, too. For another $130, £120 or AU$160 you can get one with 4G LTE data. Let's just say with the money you're saving, you'll be able to afford the "nice" wrapping paper.
And while none of Apple's iPads support user-upgradable storage, the company doubled the base storage of the Mini 2 (and most of the other current iPad models) from a lean 16GB to a healthier 32GB back in September. So now you're getting more for the exact same price.
Apple iPad Mini 2 is an oldie, but a goodie
Like comparing Apples and Androids
There are many wallet-friendly Android tablets you can buy as gifts. In the US and UK, there's the 2016 Amazon Fire HD 8 for $90 or £90. In the US and Australia, there's the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 for $220 or AU$299.
One of the lowest priced tablets in the US and UK is the non-HD Amazon Fire, at just $50 or £50.
These tablets are good to watch movies on, browse the web and read books -- the same things the iPad Mini 2 is good at. But the selection of apps optimized for the iPad still surpasses those available for Android-based tablets. Also, most apps debut on iOS before making their way over to Android -- especially big ones like the much anticipated game Super Mario Run.
Next to price, the biggest deciding factor here is going to be the operating system: Android or iOS. If the person you're getting a gift for is invested in the Apple ecosystem, the iPad Mini 2 is the cheapest way to go. If most of their devices run Android, something like the Asus ZenPad Z8would be a good option. If they're an Amazon Prime member, consider an Amazon Fire HD 8.
iPad Mini 4: Better, but costlier
The iPad Mini 4 costs $399, £379 or AU$569. While the Mini 4 is definitely more expensive than the Mini 2, what exactly are you getting for that money?
The iPad Mini 4 is slightly lighter and thinner than the Mini 2. It has a faster processor, a better camera and comes in gold -- the iPad Mini 2 only comes in silver and space gray.
Both iPads have the same Retina display. Though the Mini 4's display has a better reflective coating and is fully laminated -- all that to say the screen looks slightly better.
Unlike the iPad Mini 2, the Mini 4 has a fingerprint sensor -- meaning you can use Touch ID andApple Pay, for added security and to speed up purchases.
Also that more powerful processor lets the Mini 4 take advantage of split-screen apps, instead of the Mini 2's slide-over feature. That means the iPad Mini 4 can have two active apps share the screen. Whereas the Mini 2 can have two apps share the screen, only one app can be active at a time -- also, one app is in a tab off to the side.
There's a caveat, however: the asking price of the Mini 4 is identical to that of the iPad Air 2, which is slightly faster and has a larger 9.7-inch screen. If you're going to spend up for these features -- another $130, £140 or AU$200 over the Mini 2 -- and if you don't need ultraportability, you might as well go with that larger model.
The iPad Mini 2 is a smart gift this holiday season -- especially if you're the one paying for it. Though it's three years old, it runs iOS 10, has a Retina display and is the cheapest iPad Apple sells directly. Now you just need to decide what color bow you're going to put on it.