TECH

Apple's Giant New iPad Could Be The Start Of Something Big

The super-sized tablet could attract customers Apple hasn't been able to woo yet.

On Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook actually mentioned the word "enterprise" onstage in California, signaling that the Cupertino-based tech giant may finally be getting serious about catering to big businesses with the introduction of its new iPad Pro line.

Live stream viewers and attendees were treated to something unusual onstage: Microsoft executives using a stylus and showing off new features in Office apps for the iPad Pro. While Steve Jobs may have hated the stylus, Apple giving prominent placement to a demonstration of workplace productivity apps was a clear signal to Wall Street and big business that it wants its tablets to be in the hands of workers everywhere.

As my colleague Alex Kaufman reported, Wall Street was not impressed by the big tablet or the rest of Apple's new products: Apple's stock was down 2 percent after Wednesday's event.  

Apple is betting that its expensive new iPad Pro will find a market in the business and professional world. While Apple sold 40 percent more iPhones in 2015 than the previous year, iPad sales are down 23 percent. 

The extent to which Apple can get its newest line of tablet computers into big businesses, however, may depend more on the company's new corporate partnerships and support than the capabilities of the iPad Pro. 

"The thing about the enterprise with Apple is that it has not been a focus for Apple," Brian Blau, the research director for ‎consumer technology and markets at Gartner, told The Huffington Post. "The issue with Apple is that they haven't responded to needs of the enterprise, which include stringent requirements around device deployment, integration and management. Lots of times, enterprises can't afford the insecurity, the risk or even the hassle." 

As has sometimes been the case over the years, the onstage demonstrations at Apple's Wednesday event were long on "wow factor" and short on the boring but important details like the ones Blau referenced.

Sure, writing on documents and using new drafting tools looked good…

…and Apple's new slickly designed stylus -- sorry, "Pencil" -- opens up new avenues for creativity and productivity on the iPad Pro. 

What we didn't hear much about was back-office management. In theory, Apple's partnership with IBM, which was announced last year, is going to deliver integration and support for businesses deploying iPad Pros or other mobile devices. 

"Forrester believes it's a pretty important relationship," J. P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, told HuffPost. 

"It's going to offload some of the activities that Apple simply wouldn't be good at to IBM, which is good at this kind of integration."

The new iPad Pro is the fastest iPad made to date. But even if the newest tablet from the world's biggest tech company may boast improved technical specs and a 12.9-inch screen, an $800 price tag for an entry-level model is steep. It's almost as much as a base-model Macbook Air.

In fact, once you add that Apple Pencil ($99) and a smart keyboard ($149), an iPad Pro is more expensive than some of Apple's laptop offerings, to say nothing of Chromebooks or Windows PCs.

"There is a gap between the use cases right now," said Gownder. 

"What the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 can do is fill a niche that is essentially an ultrabook niche. It is essentially a laptop replacement. iPad has not been able to play in that space. What [Apple has] been able to do is to enter the enterprise in a whole variety of different ways that are aligned around particular workflows. So, for example, you seen an iPad as a menu in a restaurant in JFK airport, or you see salespeople who are using iPads as a presentation device with their customers, one on one."

That's not to say that the new iPad Pro isn't an impressive piece of engineering or may well be worth the expense for those who can afford it.

On that count, Gownder expects the iPad Pro to be marketed more to big business and legal, finance, creative and health professionals, not consumers. 

The use cases Apple showed included creative applications, like Adobe's photo software: 

Apple also demonstrated applications for medical students, doctors and health care professionals:

 As hospitals adopt electronic health records, the iPad Pro might become a useful device to show simulations of procedures or mechanisms of injury or disease: 

Apple claims that the new A9 processor in the iPad Pro is faster than 90 percent of portable PCs, which would enable it to handle more of the tasks professionals ask of it.

Until reviewers benchmark the device's performance, however, it's too early to say exactly how much of a laptop replacement the iPad Pro would be or how it compares to Microsoft's Surface Pro.

It's possible that some consumers may look at the bigger iPad Pro as more than a laptop replacement. Analysts have been wrong about the iPad before and will be again.

Gownder predicted that there will be a market segment for a larger iPad but wasn't sure how big that will be. 

"The bottom line here is that my call on this is that for commercial and enterprise customers, prosumers, a large-size iPad is something that there will be demand for," he said.

"On the consumer side, we'll need to see exactly the vision that Apple is putting forward. For millennials and the cord cutters who don't have a cable subscription, who are using the tablet not just as a PC replacement but a TV replacement device, they could be a really fertile market."

If Pro sales do take off in business and health care, look for Samsung, Microsoft and other device makers to follow with larger tablets, just as Apple manufactured larger smartphones in response to consumer demand. 

"People follow Apple, there's no doubt about that," said Blau. "In terms of larger device capabilities, we certainly see a lot of them, but we haven't seen adoption on the consumer side. There's a lot of competition from Microsoft, especially revamped offerings and integration of Windows 10." 

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