Apple may have to place more emphasis on the iPad's capabilities as mobile point of sale devices to help it recover from a small but sharp decline in tablet sales.
While moving 13.3 million units of anything in three months may not seem like poor performance, that figure is a 9% drop from iPad sales in the prior quarter, Apple said in its earnings report July 22.
"It's no secret that Apple would like to boost the iPad sales, particularly into business," said Zil Bareisis, a senior analyst at Celent. "Dedicated business apps, whether mobile point of sale, customer management or sales-related, are a good way to convince businesses to buy more iPads."
Apple earlier in July revealed a partnership with IBM to sell iPhones and iPads to corporate clients.
"You can only do so many partnerships well, but in this particular case, arguably, the companies are so complementary, and both companies see that mobile and enterprise are an enormous opportunity," Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the company's conference call to discuss its fiscal third-quarter earnings.
Typically, it's smaller companies that use iPads to accept card payments, though many mobile point of sale vendors are beefing up their capabilities in the pursuit of bigger targets. The IBM agreement's most immediate impact will be on enterprise markets, increasing the potential for iPads to appear in customer-facing deployments at large businesses.
"It will be interesting to see the extent the deal with IBM will help drive iPads and mobile point of sale terminals," Bareisis said. "Apple also hinted that iPads and tablets are still relatively early in their development cycle, so we can expect more innovation in that market."
In April, during the company's second-quarter earnings call, Cook revealed the company has almost 800 million iTunes accounts, a database many view as a solid foundation for future payments schemes. The company's project with China Mobile, believed in part to be the establishment of an iPhone payment system with China UnionPay; and the recently launched iTunes Pass automated account loading feature in Japan both add to the potential for Apple to be a mobile payments giant and a threat to the card networks.
The IBM partnership could make Apple mobile devices more easily deployed, monitored and controlled from other enterprise devices, said Tim Sloane, vice president of payments innovation at Mercator Advisory Group.
Whether IBM relationship can boost Apple's presence in payments depends on how open Apple will be with its partner, Sloane said.
"As a relatively non-controversial example: Will Apple allow IBM to intercept the fingerprint sign-on function so that it can be integrated into a single sign-on enterprise solution?" Sloan said. "A more controversial example would be: Will Apple enable IBM to integrate non-Apple BLE capabilities into iOS so that the mobile point of sale device can be very efficiently and seamlessly operate with non-Apple marketing and offer solutions? Doing so is not the traditional approach Apple has taken in the past."
Apple did not return a request for comment by deadline.
"Tim Cook has publically stated that he intends to make Apple more open, but it is unclear how far he will go," Sloane said.