The problem with the new iPad – and every other tablet

I've spent a few days with the iPad Air 2 now (review is coming soon), so I can comfortable say it's a great tablet and a worthy addition to Apple's family. There's just one problem: it's more of the same. It's unbelievably thin and more powerful than ever, but unless your old iPad breaks there's really not much of a reason to upgrade. The iPad Air 2 is a great iteration of a great device, but that's all it is, an iteration. There's no killer-feature that's going to make people finally upgrade from their old iPads. The wow-factor is gone.

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I've spent a few days with the iPad Air 2 now (review is coming soon), so I can comfortable say it's a great tablet and a worthy addition to Apple's family. There's just one problem: it's more of the same. It's unbelievably thin and more powerful than ever, but unless your old iPad breaks there's really not much of a reason to upgrade. The iPad Air 2 is a great iteration of a great device, but that's all it is, an iteration. There's no killer-feature that's going to make people finally upgrade from their old iPads. The wow-factor is gone.

But this isn't solely Apple's problem, it's a problem with tablets in general. A tablet, by nature is a rectangle with a screen. As such, there's only so much you can do with it: you can make it bigger, you can make it smaller, you can make it thinner, you can built it with better parts, but that's about all.

A 6.1mm iPad is an amazing feat, but a thinner form-factor alone isn't going to dramatically change your day-to-day experience. Better hardware is a nice perk, but I'd wager that most people don't do anything too intensive on their tablets. Saving a few seconds here and there when checking your emails or browsing Facebook is all well and good, but it's not a good enough reason to upgrade for most people.

As bigger tablets get lighter, I think we'll start to see smaller models decrease in popularity. Having used both the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, I can understand why Apple seem to be focusing all of their efforts on the larger model – the weight difference between the two is almost unnoticeable. I'm sure there'll be a few niche users who'll still buy the smaller model, but as with phones, I think we'll see larger tablets almost remove the need for anything under 9-inches entirely.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think tablets will become a category much like notebooks and desktop computers. We'll buy them, and then we'll upgrade every four to five years when the old one finally carks it.

As cynical as this sounds, I'm not sure if there's too much ground left to cover in the tablet category, at least from a hardware perspective. Though to be fair, Lenovo's tablet with an in-built Pico projector is somewhat intriguing, but I don't quite think it's an idea that will go mainstream. I hope someone finally perfects the two-in-one, but I don't think that's going to be Apple. It feels like Apple are intentionally keeping their tablet and laptop lines separate to prevent them from cannibalising each other.

If we take a step back, continuous innovation is a constant challenge in the consumer tech industry. Manufacturers are trying to wow us every year, and past a certain point, that becomes almost impossible. It's gotten to the point where companies are adding features for the sake of having something new to show – the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S5 have a heart-rate monitor embedded in the device's rear – a feature I consider not only impractical, but useless. It feels like it was included just for the sake of adding another bullet point to the feature list. 

The original iPhone was genuinely ground-breaking, and single-handedly changed the face of the phone industry, but not even Apple have released anything as revolutionary since. Each new iPhone has been better, but they're fundamentally the same product.

Instead, I think we'll start to see more innovation about how are devices work together. It's not going to be the hardware that gets us excited, it's going to be the software. The Continuity features that bridge Mac, iPad and iPhone might not be "revolutionary", but they're my favourite thing Apple's done in a long time. The ability to turn my iPhone into a hotspot without even touching it is one of the best things about Yosemite. As weird as it sounds, I love that Apple has written software that means I can use my phone less, and as a result, can focus on the actual work I'm doing.

Sony's Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact are another example of this. For me, their defining feature is PlayStation 4 Remote Play. PlayStation 4 Remote Play is an awesome feature not just because it lets you keep playing your game while you're on the toilet, but because it increases the value from your existing devices.

Many of us have three devices now, a smartphone, a tablet, and a computer. Some even have a gaming console added into the mix. So why not improve the whole experience, rather than just one part of it? Apple seem to be on the right track and Windows 10 could easily achieve a similar goal. If a new tablet gave you more value from both your computer and smartphone, it would be a pretty good reason to upgrade.

I wouldn't bet my life savings on it, but I'm fairly confident that the "next big wow" will be a software innovation, not hardware. We can keep making tablets and smartphones thinner and more powerful, but it’s the software they're running that's going to make them must have devices.

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