Apple released its new iPads yesterday and they are totally boring, which is in an of itself not a huge deal. The bigger worry is that the new family of SKUs, covering every price and size from $250 to close to $1000 reminds me of the kind of tasteless shelf stuffing that took place at HP during the years I was there for both PCs and printers.
Here is how it would go: some senior exec from one of the big channel partners (Costco, Staples, BestBuy, Tesco, etc.) would show up with a sales report or market study claiming that the price point between $399 and $499 seemed particularly fertile for some sort of compromised laptop and BAM! a project manager would be assigned to sort out what components to take out of some existing device so that the BOM (bill of materials) would allow a product to exist- totally based on rear view mirror data about sales purchases by the ants crawling through the shelves of the Costco late on Friday night somewhere between the cheeseballs and the lawn equipment.
Apple going this direction is no surprise given their lack of product leadership- adding small features to the rapidly exploding matrix of SKUs and managing product releases to Wall St expectations. The bigger problem though is the way that the ipad third party ecosystem has done so little to invent new experiences in the form of apps that drive the adoption of new and better devices. Almost every developer that I talk to is much more excited about working on the iPhone platform than on the iPad platform and it is a bit sad because in the absence of the iPhone stealing all of the thunder, the iPad would have been, in Alan Kay's words, "what the personal computer should have been."
Without new apps, the iPad will die a long slow death of mediocre corporate decisions filling holes in the product matrix. As I write this on the new version of Drafts 4, with Prompt 2 and Pythonista being the only two apps that have gotten me excited in the last year, I'm not sure we will get there- a purely new class of app targeting the large glass screen, the constant connection to the Internet, and MIPS that are much more about the GPU than the CPU. All of this should make buyers of the new iPad Air 2 feel like those early Apple ][ pioneers who bought it just to run VisiCalc, Star Blazer, and PrintShop.
If you've got one of those apps, I want to talk to you...