While industry sages prognosticated the diminishing relevance of the tablet device category for the past three years as iPad and tablet sales slowed, Apple quietly amassed an installed base of over 400 million active iPads thanks to extended iOS device support. The newly announced iPad Pro is poised to bring about an inflection point in personal computing by changing the way we think of portable computing.
PC-Class Computing for Most of Us
My mother is probably the most tech savvy-deficient individual on the planet. She loves to watch Korean dramas on weird hack websites. She used to do her binge-watching on my parent’s shared iMac, but she would butt heads with my father who would frequently need the iMac for more practical uses. In an effort to bring cyber peace into their household, I handed down my iPad 3 to my mother three years ago and she has not touched the iMac since.
My point? For 80 percent of us, tablets such as the iPad are sufficient for most of our personal computing needs. In fact, even older versions of the iPad may be overpowered for most applications used by the average Joe. Most of us just need to be able to play low-res games such as Minecraft, browse the web, binge-watch Korean dramas and spend a lot of time texting friends and family on Kakao. Pretty simple stuff.
Desktops are old school and declining. According to Gartner Inc., traditional PC (desk-based and notebooks) device shipments are expected to decline 0.4%. Gartner’s device market segmentation becomes tricky when you try to figure out tablet shipment growth (is an iPad Pro that is as powerful and capable as a PC really a basic ultramobile?), but it is clear that portable, lightweight computing is the growth area in personal computing.
As the iPad and iOS continue to evolve, they are collaborating in blurring the conventional lines that divide the tablet from the laptop device category as Apple’s tablets take on what used to be the few critical differentiators that set the laptop and desktop apart. With over 400 million iPads in active service and over 60 percent of iOS devices running on iOS 12 in little over a month since its release, Apple has a massive, up-to-date installed base of devices that they can continue to upgrade to challenge the portable PC.
One Big Step for ARM Kind
The new iPad Pro is a beautiful device on the outside, no doubt. The more remarkably beautiful things are happening inside the iPad Pro, which will likely change personal computing technology as we have known it. That remarkable thing is the A12x Bionic chip that boasts graphics performance on part with Microsoft’s XBox One S, but with a neural engine.
Why is this a big deal? Apple is taking the ARM chip into the realm of PC-grade and console gaming-grade computing. The A12x Bionic chip is manufactured using TMCS’s 7nm FinFET process. In comparison, the latest Intel i9 PC processor uses the company’s 14nm process and does not come with an integrated GPU and neural processor optimized for a device like the A12x Bionic is for the iPad.
The new iPad processor is a big deal. Apple’s vice president of hardware engineering, John Ternus, stated that the new iPad will be faster that 92 percent of all portable PCs. The iPad has graduated from toy status to bona fide PC-replacement. This should concern may portable PC device manufacturers. Next year, Apple may make the iPad Pro faster and more capable than 100% of all portable PCs. It’s not impossible given that Apple has already packed the power of an XBox One S into a form factor that is 94 smaller in volume.
Leapfrogging the PC with Software and A.I.
Hardware alone will not usurp the PC. It will be software. As the iPad’s computing capabilities match and, in many ways, exceed the capabilities of the archetypical PC, we can expect compelling software for a wide range of applications that are newly designed away from the point-and-click UI paradigm that has dominated PC software design since, ironically, Apple introduced it with the Lisa 35 years ago.
A great example of PC-grade software was the upcoming full version of Photoshop customized for iPad that was showcased by Adobe. Instead of a mouse, a designer is able to use the Apple Pencil to interface with the Photoshop application and content.
But it was Adobe’s Project Aero that profoundly foreshadowed the doom of the PC. The Aero application is able to take the layers of a Photoshop file and create a 3D rendering that can then be superimposed with animated elements on a physical space using ARKit and A.I. Today’s PCs don’t do this. In many ways, the iPad Pro has already surpassed the portable PC and its ascension will be accelerated by innovative new iPad software yet to come.
And, yes, I authored and published this article on the iPad Pro 10.5 running iOS 12.1. No Mac, no PC.
Implications for Business Leaders
Business leaders and PC device manufacturers need to recognize that Apple is a trillion-dollar company that didn’t reach its historic valuation by selling toys. Recently, IBM revealed that they have issued over 277,000 macOS and iOS devices to employees, which has led to less IT support required over company-issued PCs.
PC vendors should get their act together and avoid underestimating the quality of Apple’s products and their extremely agile ecosystem. Survival will require not just talking the talk but walking the walk as Apple has. This will be the biggest challenge for companies that have failed to innovate the personal computer in a meaningful way for years.