But in the past 18 months, Apple refreshed its low-end iPads and redesigned its high-end iPad Pros, prompting consumers to buy so many tablets that Apple saw its strongest iPad growth in six years during the first three months of 2019.
And with iPadOS, new software specifically designed for the tablet introduced in 2010 and famously called a "magical" device by then-CEO Steve Jobs, Apple is making it pretty clear that the iPad has an increasingly important place in the company's product lineup.
"It's become a truly distinct experience," Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, said in an interview on Monday after introducing iPadOS at.
"It's not an iPhone experience. It's not a Mac experience. The name is a recognition of that."
With iPadOS, to be released in the fall, Apple will deliver a set of features that fill in some of the product's biggest gaps and are likely to make it appeal to more users who rely on the iPad to do more things. While he stopped short of calling iPads with the new operating system a laptop replacement, Federighi said "we've expanded the domain where people can say the iPad is the best solution."
Here are 10 of the best new features for iPadOS:
1. New home screen -- You can now pin widgets and there's room for more icons
2. Improved multitasking -- Add multiple apps to slide-over mode and quickly flip between them, and use split-view with a pair of open windows from the same app (or different apps)
3. Full desktop Safari -- The new version of Safari for the iPad pulls the desktop version of websites and optimizes them for the touchscreen; it also works better with web apps like Google Docs and WordPress
4. Better file management -- Adds column view, file preview, quick actions, metadata, zip and unzip, and keyboard shortcuts to the Files app so that it acts more like the Finder on Mac; plus adds folder sharing in iCloud Drive to compete with Dropbox and Google Drive
5. Plug-in drives -- You can now plug in thumb drives, SD cards and external drives, and they automatically show up in the Files app
6. Camera support -- You can now plug in a camera directly to the iPad and import photos to edit in apps like Adobe Lightroom
7. Font support -- You can now download fonts to use in various apps
8. Faster editing -- New gestures and touch controls to allow for faster scrolling, simpler text selection and cursor movements, new gestures for copy and paste, and three-finger swipe for undo
9. Apple Pencil markup -- Just swipe up from the corner of the screen with Apple Pencil and you're in the markup experience where you can make notes on anything on your screen and then export it
10. Sidecar -- This lets you use the iPad as a second monitor and a drawing tablet (when paired with the Apple Pencil) for your Mac
Apple also announced extreme high-end Mac hardware with the new Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display XDR. And a couple weeks ago, it unveiled new MacBook Pro laptops. It's hard not to look at these developments and see Apple migrating the Mac for use as a high-end machine aimed mostly at workers, while the iPad evolves into an everyday machine for the average consumer.
Federighi said he uses both -- he manages the teams that make software for both the iPad and the Mac. But he's personally spending more of his time in front of an iPad.
The one long-anticipated iPad feature that Apple didn't announce on stage at WWDC was support for mice and trackpads. Apple's stance has been that if it gives users a mouse, they'll fall back on it as crutch and won't benefit from the full capabilities of the iPad's multitouch software.
Apple developers including Steve Troughton-Smith quickly dug into the developer beta of iOS 13 and spotted that mouse support has been added as an accessibility feature to work with USB mice and Apple's Magic Trackpad. This feature makes the cursor look like a black circle about the size of a finger tip, as shown in this video Troughton-Smith posted on Twitter:
A lot of users have been hoping for mouse support on the iPad for a long time. It's easy to look at this as a possible first step toward making the iPad a fully mouse-compatible system. But Apple intended this feature to be just what it says it is -- a way to assist users with special needs and not to make the iPad more like the Mac and other computers.
On the other hand, there are features coming with iOS 13, to be released in the fall, that will also benefit the iPad. The most prominent are new privacy controls. Among those Federighi highlighted on Monday were "Sign In with Apple" (which allows you to hide your email address when signing up for new services, unlike sign-on services from Google and Facebook), stronger controls to keep apps from abusing location tracking and Homekit Secure Video to keep your security camera videos private.
These are just a few of the privacy features in iOS 13 and iPadOS. One of Federighi's slides showed a much larger list on stage.
"Even if this wasn't a capability that would sell more products, we'd still do it because we think it's the right thing to do," Federighi said of privacy. "We build the products that we want to use."