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The puzzling new iPads

Apple introduced a line of new iPads this week and I found the entire effort somewhat odd and puzzling. For a product category that’s been around so long, we should be seeing products that do more and cost less. Instead we’re seeing mostly new models that cost more with few improvements to their functionality.

The new features Apple announced this week include making them thinner, making their screens brighter, and adding faster processors. These are improvements Apple has done, almost by rote, across all of their product lines for years. Oh yes, they’ve also added a few new colors, much as they done with iPhones.

But these are not the features the iPads need if the line is to grow. iPads continue to be more content consumption devices than computers, due to the limitations of their software. iPads are great for reading, watching videos, email, drawing, and exploring the web. As a result it’s hard to justify spending so much for an expensive iPad, just for these hardware improvements that do little to improve functionality.

iPads were originally built using the same software as iPhones, and depend on using apps from their app store. While they’ve made improvements in the software over the years, such as adding a file management system and changing how windows are displayed, for the most part, the software has not changed to any great degree.

I think there’s a reason that Apple is holding back on iPad software improvements that would make it more capable as a computer and more of a rival to the popular Microsoft Surface computers. It would mean Apple would need to give up its 30% commission it gets from the sale of apps. If it wanted an iPad to be as capable as a MacBook or Surface, it would need to abandon the app store and open the platform to third party software, much as they do with computers.

Apple continues to tease us by making iPads look more like computers with their accessory keyboards, larger screens, and faster processors – even pricing them close to the cost of MacBooks. But until it retools its operating system, it will not replace a computer for many of its customers. And that’s ok if Apple wants to keep the products simpler for a different audience. But then they shouldn’t price them like a computer.