Apple's iPad problem isn't new hardware - it's new software

This week we got a new iPad with a new M4 processor… And it's precisely what nobody wanted. But a solution could be coming soon…

Apple's iPad problem isn't new hardware - it's new software

Because the one thing that we were all crying out for this week was a new, uprated iPad, right?

But what else is Apple going to do? Continue to rest on its laurels and let the confusing palette of Pads, pencils and bolt-on accessories fester? Or keep us sweet with a few new colours? Or admit that they’re all out of touchscreen ideas and reverse out of the tablet market altogether?

Of course not. Apple did the only thing that it knows how to do - create an amazing new device (literally, at 5.1mm thick, their thinnest device ever) that packs in tech that would have seemed impossible just a few short years earlier. Well done, Apple. Boxes ticked.

But there’s no avoiding the fact that the iPad is a troubled product. With its multifarious bolt ons it becomes a kind of laptop… That runs an OS built for phones… It COULD run Mac OS… But Apple (and many users) don’t want it to. So it doesn’t. So, increasingly, it’s looking like even Apple doesn't know where iPad fits into the consumption/creation mix any more. And until the road ahead becomes clear then upgrading into it is a no-through route.

No need to upgrade

I’ve not come across an app that I wanted to run, and it couldn’t. Thus, until I drop it and break it, it’s impossible to envision a moment where I’d be replacing it.

Perhaps the best evidence of that is the device that I’m typing this article on right now. Ladies and gents I’m using an Apple iPad A1652. A first generation 12.9” iPad Pro. In gold. With 128Mb storage. Dating from 2015. That’s a device that’s coming up for nine years old. And, in the fast moving world of tech, that’s not supposed to happen.

But it works perfectly. Its bright, perfect, massive screen is only millimetres smaller than the largest of the latest iPads announced days earlier. It works great with my Apple bluetooth keyboard and - if I want to make Steve Jobs spin - my Apple Magic Mouse 2 too. I can read the news, get the web, use it as a second screen for my Mac, know the weather, see all my streaming services and play thousands of games.

In short I’ve not come across an app that I wanted to run, and it couldn’t. Thus, until I drop it and break it, it’s impossible to envision a moment where I’d be replacing it. And that represents an on-going headache for Apple. While annual iPhones make or break on their new camera features, an extended battery life or - let’s face it - becoming so big they become practically an iPad, the iPad quietly ticks by, making the grade and paying its dues. Until somebody sits on it.

So what's new?

So what new iPad fun has Apple got for us this time? Well, there’s a new iPad Air that now comes in two sizes - 11 inch and for the first time ever a larger 13 inch - available in four different colours. And there’s new keyboard-plus-stands that includes a function row and a haptic trackpad for those dreaming of ditching the laptop. (Good luck.) AND there’s a new Pencil Pro filled with haptics, a squeezable bit and a new ‘barrel roll’ feature. But most of all there’s a new iPad Pro.

The M4 processor has already been used for games like Diablo Immortal

Yes, underscoring all the points made above, Apple have created a new iPad Pro which, in addition to coming in those same 11 and 13 inch sizes, offers uprated cameras, is only 5.1mm thick (at its larger size), and has an OLED screen for the first time. But most surprising is - thanks to Apple’s voracious ability to crank up the output of their processors at will, it seems - the presence of a brand new M4 processor on board.

Yes, the iPad Pro just became Apple’s fastest device, skipping the M3 only recently revealed for their laptops and desktops and using their new premier chip that - after hitting iPad Pro first - will now doubtless cascade down into all their other subsequent hardware.

It’s a fearsome package with a fearsome price. That 13” model at base 256Mb storage will set you back $1299, with $129 for the Pencil Pro and $349 for its keyboard. That’s $1648 (without the Pencil) for something that arguably does far less than a Mac OS-based Macbook Air ($1099).

The real reason to buy iPad and realise the power of M4 can only come through software.

But we’re rather comparing Apples with Oranges here… And that’s part of Pad’s ongoing problem. The jury remains out on whether you really CAN ever replace a laptop with an iPad (they literally run different operating systems) and when you’re paying a premium to jump to the ‘weird’ option, it just gets that bit harder.

But most of all the question has to be ‘why’? What are they putting all this power into a beautiful, thin but ultimately limited device that runs a phone’s OS? If you’re at the cutting edge of workflows it’s possible (and fun) to work your 8K video and 500 Mb+ Photoshop projects into being. But what about the rest of us? For that barely inquisitive 99% of the home computing market, it would appear that iPad continues to miss the spot. Unless…

I’m missing something?

The real reason to buy iPad and realise the power of M4 can only come through software. New iPad runs everything that exists right now that bit faster… And that’s exactly something that nobody asked for. Instead Apple needs to up their software game and give their new hardware some kind of utility to get its teeth into. Some kind of reason for being that we outside of the Infinite Loop haven’t realised yet.

And I’m hoping that comes on June 10th 2024 at the keynote speech from this year’s Apple WWDC. Some new purpose and power to iOS (and Mac OS) that gives us reason to get excited and - just maybe - think about that upgrade. On-device AI? A Siri that isn’t stupid? A whole new way to discover, launch and use apps? The end of the homescreen? A new way to get stuff done? Who can tell? But until Apple’s software gives us a reason to buy their hardware, no matter how powerful it is, they’re at an impasse.

Editor -

Daniel Griffiths is a veteran journalist who has worked on some of the biggest entertainment media brands in the world. He's interviewed countless big names, and covered countless new releases in the fields of videogames, music, movies, tech, gadgets, home improvement, self build, interiors and garden design. Yup, he said garden design… He’s the ex-Editor of PSM2, PSM3, GamesMaster and Future Music, ex-Deputy Editor of The Official PlayStation Magazine and ex-Group Editor-in-Chief of Electronic Musician, Guitarist, Guitar World, Rhythm, Computer Music and more. He hates talking about himself.