Why startups shouldn’t develop iPad apps

Edited excerpt from Finding iPad’s Future by Neil Cybart:

When the iPad first started to show signs of trouble, many market observers were shocked, thinking Apple must be losing to low end Android tablets. In reality, one reason sales momentum was slowing was iPad owners weren’t upgrading their device. Consumers have held onto their iPad, on average, for three years, which is longer than the iPhone’s 2.6-year upgrade cycle. Since the tablet category is still young, the iPad’s three year upgrade cycle is still extending and will likely go out as far as 5-6 years.

There are currently approximately 3 million units of the original iPad still in use, or 20% of the devices Apple sold. For the iPad 2, it is possible that close to 60% of the units Apple sold are still being used. These two devices are not superior tablets. The initial iPad lacks a camera, while the iPad 2 has a mediocre camera. When compared to the latest iPads, these first two iPads are simply inferior tablets with slow processors, heavy form factors, and inferior screens. But none of that matters with owners, suggesting that many of these tablets are just being used for basic consumption tasks like video and web surfing and not for the productivity and content creation tools that Apple has been marketing.

There are signs that Apple believes there may be some kind of iPad revival around the corner. I’m skeptical. Why would someone upgrade an iPad that is just being used to watch video?

(1) Another possible reason the upgrade cycle is longer for the iPad than the iPhone: the iPad is used less frequently because it’s not with you all the time. This is important for developers, due to the relationship between frequency of habit and customer retention.
(2) The failure of the iPad to be anything other than a viewing and gaming device compounds the challenges for mobile-only startups. See Why mobile-only business models aren’t working.
(3) See also Why mobile traction is getting harder, not easier.

6 thoughts on “Why startups shouldn’t develop iPad apps

    • I remember early discussions in Seeking Alpha where we were skeptical that an iPad app would add much value over the iPad web browsing experience, because the screen was large enough for web.

      • Good point. But that wasn’t a prediction about an underwhelming iPad upgrade cycle, just a skepticism about app development. Though even there, I think it was easy to get caught up in the hype and spend a lot of time and $$ developing apps for the iPad.

      • Yup. Also, I seem to remember that Apple tried to strong-arm developers into developing for the iPad by promising them better exposure for their apps if they had an iPad version.

  1. Another reason is as soon as I got my iPhone 6+, I stopped using my iPad because the 6+ is big enough, and I can type faster on it than the iPad.

    • Yup — it’s actually easier to type on an iPhone than an iPad, because you have to hold the device in one hand and type with the other, and the smaller iPhone is easier to hold. I’m also finding that predictive typing is a game-changer for the iPhone.

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