Apple’s iPad Pro App Problem

Apple this week announced the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, a $599 product that joins its 12.9-inch device in targeting professional users. During the event, Apple reiterated its ongoing argument that the iPad Pro isn’t just a good replacement for an old iPad but that it’s also a suitable replacement for a personal computer (from here forward, I’ll consider a PC to be any device running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux). I’ve been watching this space since the beginning and I don’t think it is terribly valuable to revisit the whole ‘consumption versus creation’ debate about tablets. Obviously, plenty of people use them to get work done and Apple, in particular, has added features to the iPad like the ability to run two apps side by side that make this easier than ever before. But one challenge to Apple’s view of the future is the app story. Unfortunately, Apple’s iPad still has a professional app problem.

Now, the knee-jerk reaction to this comment is to point to the stat, put forth during the event by Apple, that there are over 1 million apps available for the iPad today. The problem is the overwhelming majority of those apps are geared toward consumers and carry consumer-centric pricing designed to drive high volumes of downloads. Alas, these are not typically the apps professionals need to make the transition at work from a PC to an iPad.

When we talk about business users, and especially users in small to medium-sized companies, there is an incredible breadth and depth in the types of software they are using on their PCs. Small software companies create, sell, and update much of that software, charging what it costs to support these activities. Unfortunately, these prices are often not sustainable inside the App store. The fact is, the current economics, as well as the discovery system within Apple’s App Store, are not favorable to developers that create more specialized business applications with higher selling prices but smaller target markets. And that’s before we discuss the challenges around the lack of free trials and fee-based updates. Apple can make a pretty compelling argument the iPad Pro has all the power a person needs to get work done but, if they don’t have the right apps, it’s a moot point.

Enterprise Mobility

As mobile has moved from hype to buzz to reality, there’s been a strong push by the enterprise to embrace it. The result has been a significant increase in the number of mobile apps commissioned and deployed by large companies. The success of these rollouts has been spotty at best, as evidenced by research by my IDC colleague John Jackson that shows an app launch failure rate of about 30% in US enterprise surveys from 2014 and 2015. Failure being, effectively, the launch of purpose-built enterprise app that didn’t gain traction with the enterprise users it targeted.

I bring this up to show the depth of the problem: These are apps specifically created and delivered to a captive user base that still failed. You can see why small app developers, faced with deciding whether to attempt to create a new, necessarily low-priced iPad app for professionals or just to continue to support an existing app for the PC would more often choose the latter.

MS & Adobe

During its September 2015 launch event for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple brought out Microsoft to talk about Office for iPad. Today, those placing an order for a new iPad Pro can even have Apple pre-install Microsoft’s Office 365 on their new hardware. I happen to think Office on iOS is quite good. But its existence is driven by Microsoft’s realization that, for Office to stay on top, it needs to be on all platforms, not just Windows. Microsoft has deep pockets that let it subsidize the cost of creating apps for iOS and not worry about near-term profits (although I suspect its Office 365 subscriptions on iPad already clear that bar). I’d say the same about products from other large companies such as Adobe, which demonstrated its Creative Cloud at the same Apple event. Of course, there are exceptions among smaller companies, too, such as the Omni Group, which has a growing list of successful professional iOS apps. Finally, the partnership between IBM and Apple continues to drive a great deal of conversation around enterprise apps, but it doesn’t appear to be driving the creation of much in the way of general purpose business apps.

In the end, I’d like to see the iPad Pro become a larger part of the professional personal computing discussion. For many, it may prove to be an ideal end point when paired with an Apple Pencil and keyboard. From a hardware perspective, the iPad Pro is ready; from an OS perspective, I’d argue that IOS is getting closer all the time. But moving forward, if Apple wants to create the future it describes for the iPad Pro, it needs to make the necessary moves within its App store to incentivize developers to build the apps professionals in companies of all sizes need to get work done.

Published by

Tom Mainelli

Tom Mainelli has covered the technology industry since 1995. He manages IDC's Devices and Displays group, which covers a broad range of hardware categories including PCs, tablets, smartphones, thin clients, displays, and wearables. He works closely with tech companies, industry contacts, and other analysts to provide in-depth insight and analysis on the always-evolving market of endpoint devices and their related services. In addition to overseeing the collection of historical shipment data and the forecasting of shipment trends in cooperation with IDC's Tracker organization, he also heads up numerous primary research initiatives at IDC. Chief among them is the fielding and analysis of IDC's influential, multi-country Consumer and Commercial PC, Tablet, and Smartphone Buyer Surveys. Mainelli is also driving new research at IDC around the technologies of augmented and virtual reality.

36 thoughts on “Apple’s iPad Pro App Problem”

  1. I think the current sales setup is an issue too:
    1- a 30% cut is fine for low-price, high-volume stuff. For high-price, low-volume apps, it seems maybe high ?
    2- Is the same cut taken off service and support contracts ? That’s often a big source of income for pro devs. If there’s a 30% appstore tax on that too…
    3- Is there some kind of “pro” infrastructure within the appstore, with faster approval, easier devs-Apple dialogue.. ? A bug in the update to a simple Solitaire app is both rare and relatively inconsequential at last for users. A bug in a pro app’s update can grind a business to the ground. Apple itself regularly has to recall iOS/MacOS updates. Can their devs do the same quickly ? Are there Beta channels so that paying users can test upcoming versions alongside production versions ?

    1. 1. I don’t think it really matters. 30% is still 30%. If Apple changes it, some devs might see the policy a bit unfair for them (from both sides). We’re back to square one.

      2. I think service and support contracts is out of App Store scope. The customer may purchase the app from the App Store, but for further support the customer should contact the developer directly. The cut is about what you sell through the App Store, not beyond that. CMIIW.

      3. Yes, there is. It’s called TestFlight beta testing. You may open your beta app to public or to special audience (existing paid customers).

      My only complain to the App Store service is the lack of update price. For a long time established app, this one is a must. You can’t support an app for more than 2 years for free. Other than that is nice to have, we can live with and tolerate them.

      1. Thanks for the info.

        Yeah, no payed updates must hurt. I actually feel bad for a few devs I paid a handful of bucks to a few years ago for stuff I still use quasi-daily.

        The flip side of that is that ever more are resorting to subscription pricing, which is often too high, and always frightening (and I don’t think I’m a commitmentphobe, it just seems unwise to rent instead of buy).

  2. Try to put the world in a walled garden so you can take a cut of every seed planted. Eventually people will walk out of your garden.

    That’s the long term fate now that the glitzy consumer market is exhausted and iOS is attempting to move into the real world.

    1. Are there actually reliable figures out there that indicate that this is what’s happening? Or is the assertion more ideology than observation?

      1. Not ideology..actuality. Have you worked in the enterprise world? I’ve had 25 years in it. Try and tell them you’re going to charge more for a device that restricts options for software, asset management, networking, device usage, and security. Go ahead and try to make that mainstream in the world of enterprise. And good luck.

        (If you want reliable figures, just do a basic query on how many enterprise systems are iOS after 9 years of iOS devices. I’m not talking niche usage like a CEO; I’m talking owning the enterprise device segment. That Might give you a clue.)

  3. I like the idea of looking into enterprise to gauge how PC can be possibly replaced. PCs has been a workhorse of enterprises for a long time. But if you look today how PCs are used in the office, there is a heavy use of mobile computers, mainly laptops. Nowadays many if not all of enterprise applications are available for OS X or in the cloud. So Mac laptops already replaced PCs for many people. How laptops are used by an office worker for content creation? He or she changes between docking position in his/her office and mobile when going to meetings. In the docking position big screen monitors and keyboard/mouse are seamlessly connected to the laptop.

    How does it play out for tablets? I would say that at home there are two types of personal computers only based on their usage: upright computers (PCs) and mobile computers. iOS application variety is enough to satisfy home users. If iPad could be easily transitioned between docking position and mobile at home, it would be easier to enjoy group activities at home such as game playing or TV watching on a big screen. This would unequivocally help a wider spread of iPads as home computers.

    1. The big issue for iPads is that they can’t be docked, if docking means both access to Desktop apps and Desktop amenities (more/large screen(s), mouse, LAN…). Windows tablets can be docked, Android too in the hardware sense at least.

      1. Sorry, I was not clear what I mean by docking. There are ways now to mirror iPad screen either by using Lightning to HDMI adaptor or by AirPlay wirelessly via Apple TV. And one keyboard can be connected to iPad in a vis-a-vis fashion.

        What I think would be beneficial is having an ability to connect multiple peripherals to the iPad : joystickskeyboardsmice and a true wireless display mirroring without needing to face iPad display all the time. I am not sure what is the killer app for this setup could be, but multiplayer games is one of them.

        1. That’s just what businesses need! The ability to hook joysticks to their iPad Pro. That would be awesome, NOT!

          1. Yes, Sir. You are right. Business people with joysticks will look quite childish. We should equip them with laser pointers for business meetings. Or they can use their own iPads or iPhones to move around the big screen.

  4. Once you get past general productivity software, such as Office, you get to specialty software like Adobe and CAD, et al. Once you get there, app pricing is not really an issue. They are providing specialty software that has always and likely will continue to command a higher price. Joe Consumer is not interested in AutoCAD or Vectorworks. And those companies have a lot of development invested in their PC platforms. And their customers don’t pay $1 for high end software. Even to the point that if it _isn’t_ expensive it is seen as a toy for hobbyists.

    In this regard Adobe is really the trailblazer. They have successfully navigated away from an old model to a new. It will take everyone else from the old guard doing likewise for the iPad to be anything but essentially a PC peripheral.

    Otherwise it will take new, inspired developers to come up with new ways of doing old things, or even new things that the old things just cannot address. I’m still convinced that there has to be a better way than Excel. But my mere mortal mind can’t conceive of it.

    Enterprise moves slowly. They hate change. Luckily for Adobe, the creative mentality can handle change. AutoCAD or Vectorworks could do likewise if they were so inclined.


    1. Second the observation that the race to the bottom in pricing in the App Store is a non-issue for developers making specialized apps for specialized audiences. Not just vis a vis apps for helping people get work done, but also for games — there are AAA games on ipad that cost $10 or $20 and that sell very well. There are also lighter games that sell very well for $5 or $7. We’re talking games that are aimed at gamers, advertised through specialized gaming blogs, and not at all trying to reach a mass audience. The same thing applies for workplace apps. It’s just a matter of targeting a need among a group that is willing to pay for having that need met, and then getting word out to that group.

      Sure, there aren’t enough workplace apps at present, but it’s not app store policies that are keeping them from getting made, it’s the smaller size of the market — the more specialized the app is, the smaller the audience and the harder it is to sell enough copies to pay the cost to develop it. Again a chicken and egg problem, as the market size will grow greatly if only more workers started trying to use IOS to get their work done.

      1. Also, pro (especially Entreprise) apps often require consulting (training, integration w/ back-end…) and support services. That’s a different setup than fire-and-forget Consumer/Prosumer AppStore sales. Not sure the AppStore can be the medium to sell those services, and not sure since devs have to have a separate sale infrastructure they’re that happy to have to give a 30% cut of apps revenues to Apple anyway.

      2. I would add that the App Store is not necessarily what is driving the race to the bottom pricing. Even before the App Store, software prices were trending down. More significantly, consumers were already expecting web apps to be free, a trend obviously strengthened by Gmail and Google Docs. One could more convincingly argue that a) the shift from shrink-wrapped to online distribution, b) the rise of ad supported business models, were the real drivers of the race to the bottom.

        If this is the case, then improving the App Store is not the solution at all (it would be a welcome, but it would not change the game). The solutions lie elsewhere

        1. I’d say volume is the driver to lower prices. Spreadsheets got priced when there were a few million PCs, now there are a few billion phones. Prices should have dropped by a factor a 1,000, especially since marginal costs are essentially nil.

          1. There’s still the demand side of that. There may be a few billion phones, but how many of them are using spreadsheets?


  5. I’m struggling to see your point. If I understand you correctly, you are only moaning about

    developers that create more specialized business applications with higher selling prices but smaller target markets

    Large pro app developers like Microsoft and Adobe have moved to subscription models anyway, so App Store discovery or pricing is no longer an issue. Same goes for cloud vendors like Salesforce which provide native apps for free.

    It would be easier to understand your point if you could provide examples of the business apps that you are complaining about. Are you complaining about the price of Pixelmator? Or are you looking for apps like Quark Xpress from a decade ago? Are you looking for MS Project like apps? Are you looking for FileMaker? The thing is, a lot of these businesses have different business models which may be totally outdated, or shifted to cloud subscriptions, or recouped by server licenses, etc. The fallacy is to see the AppStore as the only business model for the developer ecosystem. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    1. Yeah, I think the author really needs to more closely parse what kind of apps they are talking about here.

      Workplace apps (to help employees get their jobs done) are mostly going to be sold by the developer directly to the corporation, and then sideloaded onto devices under enterprise credentials (forget what Apple calls that). They seem to be talking about this sort of thing in at least some parts of the essay, but in other parts, they are clearly talking about the other end of the spectrum.

      Which would be apps to help small businesses or freelancers get their jobs done, which are going to be incredibly varied and range from Adobe or MS apps (subscription based), to indie apps that laser in on a specific task (sold on the app store for healthy sums to those who know they need it) to your generic scheduling or calendar app that has tons of competition in the store and all the problems that entails (price war race to free pricing and the high degree of bankrupt developers and abandonware apps that brings about).

      And it’s really only the last category that suffers from the problems of race to the bottom pricing and so forth that the essay focuses on.

    2. Maybe it’s just blaming the medium for the message: maybe there are not a lot of pro apps on the iPad pro because there isn’t a lot of demand, not because the iPad pro or AppStore setup makes it hard.

      My experience of pro computers is that it’s all-or-nothing. If one single app/feature is missing from a platform, then it can’t be my pro platform. That’s a very high bar to pass, and right now I still need Windows, for the…3% of the time I need an app or a feature that isn’t on Android: advanced Word/Excel features not available in the Mobile version, a weird vertical or custom app that relies on IE or a fat client…

      It ends up a bit of a chicken and egg problem: no huge pro market on mobile platforms until all apps are there, but no apps until there’s a large pro market willing to buy them.

      What might happen is that if/when devs update their apps to WinRT, they’ll use a cross-platform toolset that’ll let them spew out Android and iOS code too w/ minimal effort ?

      In the mean time, I’m happy with my dual-boot Android+Windows tablets. They do run Windows from time to time, less than once a week ^^ Waste of storage though.

      1. Yes. What you are saying is the common sense answer; “there are not a lot of pro apps on the iPad pro because there isn’t a lot of demand”.

        I wish people would first discuss that before blaming the App Store.

    3. To be able to work on my iPad, I would like Office without a subscription, and Project.

      Last I checked, these were not options. Furthermore, IMO, the app store is buried under junk apps.

      So I agree with the author, and not you.

      1. If you read the original article carefully, the author is not worried about Microsoft or Adobe. He is only worried about smaller developers. The apps that you need come from Microsoft, not the small guys. Hence I fail to see why you are agreeing with the author.

        Your concern seems to be completely separate from the issue the author is addressing.

  6. “doesn’t appear to be driving the creation of much in the way of general purpose business apps” There is one, CREATEit Pro for $99.00 that just happens to be free this week.

  7. Apple’s latest iPad Pro problem is that Microsoft and the Windows OEMs have finally figured out how to make quality tablet PCs.

    They are now producing quality Windows tablets that cost less than half as much as the cheapest iPad Pros. They are also producing high end Windows tablets that have more than twice the processing power and speed of the most powerful iPad Pros.

    So the question now becomes, why should businesses switch to a new less compatible OS when they can get all the benefits of the iPad Pro in the new Windows tablets?

    BTW, iPad sales dropped 25% in the quarter that the iPad Pro was introduced, while Windows tablet sale increased 59% in the same quarter.

  8. What Apple needs to do is make a tablet that runs the full version OS X, just as Microsoft does with Windows running on its Surface Pro tablets. iOS is a crippled operating system designed to provide a limited feature set to a captured customer base tied to their in-house app store on mobile devices. It was never intended from the outset to replace a desktop OS, and Apple is kidding themselves if they think the public will fall for its “iPad Pro” scam. It’s no more “pro” than their previous iPads. There’s just too much iOS can’t do that an actual PC, be it Mac or Windows, can.

      1. I guess you didn’t get the memo. They make real computers now that weigh less than 3 pounds and will fit inside a purse.

  9. I agree that the app store is horrible for work applications. Project is not available on iPad (last time I checked), and I would like to do on-platform operations instead of in-the-cloud.
    Furthermore, the app store is cluttered with hundreds of thousands of nonsense apps. There is way too much chaff and only a few kernels of wheat.

  10. I agree; Apple needs to create a tablet that’s more like a sporty iMac (i.e., Tesla) and less like a turbocharged Kindle (i.e., Dodge Dart). There’s no way I can use any of my Adobe CC Suite (realistically) on any version of the iPad. Also, iPads need to accommodate Adobe Flash. This ‘dumbing down’ of software (i.e., apps) is horrible. My iPad Mini is great as a larger version of my iPhone, minus the voice feature (not counting VoIP), but that’s it. Perhaps Apple realizes if they do use OS (and not iOS) on their iPads, people would stop buying desktops altogether?

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