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Apple vs Wacom: Who owns the future of creative tech?

The landscape of the digital art world is evolving. It’s not often that we think of Apple as the underdog, but in the market for professional graphics tablets, we’re noticing an unlikely narrative. With the introduction of the iPad Pro last year, Apple is challenging Wacom’s near monopoly over the graphics industry. Suddenly, creative professionals are starting to question the industry standard for hardware.

Wacom – the Japanese powerhouse that manufactures and sells graphics tablets – has held a longstanding virtual monopoly over the design industry. For creative agencies and professional artists, Wacom’s Cintiq pen displays are considered the traditional graphics tablet, allowing artists to mimic the feel of freehand drawing in their creative software using the Cintiq and a stylus. These pen displays are available in a variety of sizes and typically retail for anywhere between $800 and $2,000 USD. And with the less expensive Intuos model, Wacom has been able to capture a spectrum of price points. In their most recent investor report, Wacom estimated they owned 88% of the global pen tablet market share in 2015.

1 - Wacom Intuos Product Shot
Wacom Intuos

For decades, it seemed as if Wacom’s influence over the design industry would go unchallenged. But when Apple announced the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil last September, the design community began wondering if Wacom’s reign will finally meet a valid contender. Apple touts the iPad Pro as a “Super Computer” with an “incredible power that leaps past most portable PCs.” Its marketing message is clear: Apple is striving for a tablet that no longer compromises image quality and power. Retina Displays on both 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch models offer optimized CPU and graphics, with exclusive support for the Apple Pencil.

But while Apple hopes the tablet will eventually replace the personal computer, artists envision something else: the potential to use the iPad like a Wacom Cintiq. Apps like Astropad allow artists to draw directly into their Mac from their iPad, eliminating the need for a separate graphics tablet. By mirroring the Mac screen, artists are able to access any creative software on their iPad, such as Adobe Creative Suite, Mischief, Clip Studio Paint, and Autodesk Sketchbook. The appeal of the iPad makes sense: a Wacom tablet serves only as a drawing tablet, while an iPad has access to over one million native iPad apps.

Astropad
Astropad

Is it too soon to say how the market will shake out? Maybe. But as the evidence comes in, it looks like Apple might give Wacom a run for its money. For artists who are comfortable using a Cintiq 13HD, running Astropad on the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is a smooth transition. Dante Terzigni, an illustrator for American Greetings, “was debating on whether or not to get a Cintiq and decided to go with Astropad and iPad Pro.” He says he “couldn’t be happier” with his purchase, and he’s among thousands of other creative professionals who are taking the iPad Pro and Astropad seriously. As creative agency owners look to make their next hardware upgrade, many are second-guessing another Wacom purchase.

The future of graphics tablets is uncertain, but here’s what we know today: sales of digital creative tools are increasing across the board. Adobe software sales are growing. Wacom’s quarterly unit shipments of pen displays are up. And while many people thought the tablet was a dying breed when iPad sales started falling, overall iPad revenue actually increased in the last quarter due to the iPad Pro’s premium price.

If Apple is able to capture some of Wacom’s market share, the design world can expect a more even playing field for artists. Aspiring artists will no longer have to shell out thousands of dollars for a single-function graphics tablet. With graphics software like Astropad available for the iPad, professional creative tools are now more accessible to a broader spectrum of artists, including hobbyists and students.

As the landscape for digital art evolves, who owns the future of creative tech? Stay tuned.

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