The iPad paradox

Before I worked at Apple, I rarely, if ever, gave "advice" to Apple. Post Apple, my attitude is the same. Why? There's a good chance that any outside advice to Apple has either long since been considered by the smart people inside Apple, and either hasn't been implemented yet, or was thrown out as a dumb idea.

That said, I'm going to make an exception here to talk about iPad. More specifically, iPad sales.

For some time we've heard Tim Cook talk about how iPad sales were going to increase. But that hasn't happened. And it's puzzling.

I know many super smart folks, folks who aren't remotely Apple fanboys like Steven Sinofsky, who barely use their Macs (or Surface) but do use an iPad Pro.

I'm using my iPad Pro as my primary computer as well, and almost everyone I've shown it to has bought one. Yep, bought one … or tried to steal mine. Clearly, there are a lot of people who would buy an iPad.

So why aren't the sales higher? I think iPad is suffering from the "TiVo paradox."

Contextual value

"TiVo paradox" is a term I coined to explain how hard it is to market contextual value.

With some products, including TiVo, there's a distinct conflict between consumer understanding of the features and the value assigned to those features. While the internet was filled with a rabid fan base of customers who loved and praised TiVo at every opportunity, most consumers didn't understand the value of a $500 "digital VCR."

TiVo's features were relevant to the TV viewing experience based on a customer's immediate contextual need: The pause and rewind live TV feature was killer for any sports fan; remote access to the electronic programming guide was key to any busy traveler's DVR experience.

Without trying these features, though, customers are unaware of their overall value or how they come together as a whole. Want to pause TV when the phone rings? That's the killer app at that moment. Recording a show using an EPG to simply search for it? That's the killer app at that moment. Skipping commercials when you watch recorded content? That's the killer app at that moment. Contextual functionality ONLY comes together when you get to see the whole, not a piece or part. When you see only pieces, you just get a very expensive VCR not a TiVo.

In short, if you met a TiVo owner at a party, they were rabid. It was like being cornered by an insurance agent. They wouldn't leave you alone until you tried it. When most people tried it, the lightbulb turned on. TiVo was not an expensive VCR — it redefined watching TV.

I suspect iPad is suffering from the same paradox. Customers who buy an iPad Pro understand the power it unlocks relative to a Mac. The more they use it, the more it displaces their Mac.

They "get it," but most folks just don't.

Leaders teach

Steve Jobs once said, "Leaders teach." When it comes to iPad, though, Apple hasn't taught. What's the last memorable ad campaign for iPad that Apple ran? What's the last commercial that made you want to rush out and use one?


iPad really is the next big thing, and iOS 10 makes it even more so. If Apple could articulate the value of iPad to the mass market, I believe it would sell like the proverbial hotcake.

I'm not trying to give Apple advice here; I'm humbly observing iPad is a lesson that needs to be taught. With the right teacher, I suspect iPad would fulfill its role as the primary device for a post PC world.

Michael Gartenberg

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.