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Steve Jobs’ Vision Is Still Alive in the iPad Pro: It May Just Be Wrong

As Apple is starting to ship the new iPad Pro to consumers this week, many are wondering whether the company is still the same that led the charge in mobile computing under Steve Jobs.

Much of this criticism is focused on the Pencil, Apple’s version of the stylus. First introduced with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro last fall, the Pencil now also works with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and is being pitched as a key input device for tablet.

The only problem with that? Steve Jobs hated input devices like this. “Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus,” Jobs famously said when the company first introduced the iPhone back in 2007.

Of course, Jobs changed his mind on many issues over the years. But some Apple followers still have a nagging suspicion that the Apple of 2016 isn’t the Apple of Steve Jobs anymore. That a company that once used to have just a few, clearly differentiated products now overwhelms consumers with barely distinguishable variations (Apple is currently selling 5 different iPad models in 25 different configurations — and that doesn’t even include color choices).

And, perhaps most damaging: that a company that once led the industry with breakthrough innovations is falling behind, and now copying products that competitors like Microsoft have previously introduced.

There’s good news and bad news for Steve Jobs faithfuls. The good news is that Apple still is very much honoring his vision for the iPad. The bad news is that this vision may be wrong.

When Jobs first introduced the iPad in 2010, he painted it as a third category of computing devices, to sit somewhere between the iPhone and the Macbook, surpassing both at some key tasks. “It’s so much more intimate than a laptop, and it’s so much more capable than a smart phone with this gorgeous large display,” he said.

From the introduction of the original iPad in 2010: Steve Jobs envisioned it as a third computing device, better at a few key tasks.
Photo Courtesy of Apple

Some of those tasks singled out by Jobs included surfing the Web, email and management of digital photos. The iPad introduction event also featured a demo of Apple’s presentation software Keynote, to show that one can do some serious work on the device as well. And one of the first accessories shown on stage was a keyboard.

Fast forward to 2015, when Apple first introduced the iPad Pro. Again, there was a heavy focus on productivity. Again, there was a keyboard as a featured accessory. And this time, the company even invited Microsoft representatives on stage to demonstrate Office on the tablet.

Since then, Apple has only doubled down on pitching the iPad pro as a “serious” computing device, capable of being as powerful as most PCs. Earlier this month, the company even introduced a promotional video for the iPad Pro that ends with the statement: “It’s where we believe personal computing is going.”

That’s clearly what Steve Jobs believed as well, and he was willing to cannibalize some lower-end Mac sales for the iPad by pitching it as the better personal productivity device.

However, it’s not 2010 anymore — and the biggest difference is the leaps that phones, including Apple’s own iPhone, have taken since. Today’s smart phones not only have much bigger screens, making them perfectly capable devices to browse the Web and answer emails, they’ve also become, for most people,  indispensable personal companions in a way unrivaled by both tablets and PCs.

Just ask yourself: What would you rather bring to a remote island? A laptop? An iPad? Or your smart phone?

It’s an obvious answer because mobile computing has gone far beyond anything that PCs ever used to offer. The phone in our pocket has become our favorite photo and video camera, and it’s always-on connectivity has fundamentally changed how we interact with these photos, turning them from personal memories into shared experiences.

Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all wouldn’t have been possible in their current form without smart phones. The same goes for Uber, Tinder, Spotify and many other apps and services with many millions, if not billions of users. Smart phones have fundamentally changed how we interact with the world. Tablets haven’t.

Sure, there are many interesting and great apps for the iPad as well, and in certain categories it may actually have been transformative. Think payment processing for small merchants, for example. But for the vast majority of consumers, it’s not nearly as much of a part of their everyday lives as their phone.

That’s why many consumers don’t see much of a reason to upgrade their 4-year-old iPad, while having no problem with buying a new phone every year. And that’s why iPad sales have been declining, even after the company introduced the iPad Pro last year.

Steve Jobs wanted the iPad to become the leader in a new category of computing devices, and Apple is now betting that it is the future of computing. But to many consumers, that future is already in their pockets — and the iPad is just another computer.

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