Today Apple quietly announced two sort-of new iPads: the iPad air and the iPad mini. Both of these have already existed, the Air reaching version 2, the mini reaching version 4.
The mini was badly in need of an update, having last seen hardware improvements in 2015–par for the course with the current Apple, neglecting its products for years on end (the Mac Pro is still the reigning champ, now sitting at 5+ years without a single update, though Apple has promised a new version this year).
The reason I call Apple’s vision for the iPad kooky is because I don’t think it was planned, it’s still a bit of a mess, but it is, finally, a kind of actual plan and presents a clearer vision of the iPad line-up.
In 2010 the iPad line-up was simple. There was the iPad, selling for $499. That was it.
In 2011 Apple brought out the iPad 2 for $499 and that was it. The same philosophy continued through successive models:
- The New iPad (2012). This was an improved version 2, with the dumbest iPad name ever.
- iPad (4th generation, also 2012). Basically The New iPad, but with a lightning port.
- iPad Air (2013). This featured a lot of improvements–a better display, thinner, lighter (hence the name), but still kept the $499 price.
- iPad Air 2 (2014). Like the Air, but with refinements.
In 2012, when the fourth gen iPad appeared, Apple introduced the iPad mini. This was the first time buyers had a distinct choice of what iPad to get, but it was still pretty clear: get a big iPad, or get a small one. In terms of specs, they were very similar.
In 2015 Apple mixed things up again by bringing out the first iPad Pro. It had a whopping 12.9 inch display and similarly whopping price. Again, the difference between the three models was clear–size (and price, with the Pro model).
In early 2016 Apple added the 9.7 inch iPad Pro and here things got confusing. The smaller Pro sold for $599, only $100 more than the Air 2. It had Apple Pencil support, a faster processor, generally enough improvements that people might be tempted to spend that extra $100. Apple was now in a position where it would cannibalize its own sales–but not in a good way.
Apple “fixed” the issue in 2017 by coming out with both a new iPad (again just called iPad, this being the sixth generation), killing off the Air 2 and bumping the specs of the 9.7 inch Pro to a 10.5 inch model. They sealed the deal by increasing the price of the Pro to $649 and decreasing (!) the iPad price to $329. Apple also made a lot of compromises with the iPad and its tech, essentially reverting it back to something more akin to the original iPad Air.
Now the gap between regular and Pro was clear: price! The smaller Pro cost almost twice as much.
This continued into 2018 when Apple introduced the third generation of Pros, with the now 11 inch model selling for $799 vs. the still $329 iPad. The 12.9 inch model started at $999.
But now Apple had a problem of their own making. The iPad and iPad Pros could both do all the same things, run all the same software. In 2018 Apple even added Pencil support to the cheaper model. The current Pros are great tablets–provided you don’t need a headphone jack–but the price difference was now so stark that most people wouldn’t even consider the Pro models, unless they had an extremely compelling use case or simply didn’t care about the cost.
Thus, today’s additions.
The revived iPad Air (not called iPad Air 3, just iPad Air, but at least it’s not New iPad Air) does three things: it cements the return of Air branding (started when the MacBook Air was refreshed–finally–in October 2018), further underlines Apple moving away from version numbers (only the phones and watches persist) and most importantly, provides a product in-between the cheap iPad and the ludicrously expensive iPad Pro. And the price?
In reality, the new iPad Air is essentially the just-discontinued iPad Pro 10.5 inch. It was selling for $649, so the Air is significantly cheaper. There are some features cut, like the 120 Mhz refresh rate Apple calls Promotion, but all of the important stuff from the 10.5 inch Pro has been kept, just at a lower price.
The mini is in a weirder place. I thought Apple was going to go the cheap iPad route, and revert the min back to the iPad mini 3 era of design–thicker, heavier, non-laminated display and so on, to keep the price down. Instead, they went the opposite, actually improving the specs. The display is even better than before, it adds Pencil support and so on, without changing the price, which remains $399. There is one downgrade–the mini 4 was reduced to one configuration with 128 GB of storage. The new one starts at 64 GB, so the cost is the same, but storage is now halved, though one might argue the improvements make up for it. I bought my mini 4 in late 2016 and back then I paid $499 Canadian for a 32 B model. I can now get the new 64 GB version for $529, a modest (for Apple) price increase that reflects the drubbing the Canadian dollar has taken over the last two years.
The iPad mini, then, is sort of a semi-pro, so Apple must be counting on people wanting the smaller size being willing to pay for it.
And now, for the moment, the iPad line and its vision are complete. There is a low end model, a smaller model, a mid-range model, and a pair of high end models. Prices start reasonable (for apple) and progress up to through-the-roof. And for the first time in a long time, all of the models are current. None are year-old models sold for less (or the same price, as the 10.5 inch Pro was).
This may help Apple keep iPad sales from stagnating, by tempting more people into spending what used to be the old iPad price of $499 to get the nicer specs. I wonder how it will affect the Pro models, though. Face ID and slimmer bezels are nice, but not hundreds of dollars more nice. For me, at least.
And for me, I’m content to stick with my iPad Pro 10.5 inch. It still works great as it nears its two year birthday and the new Air would only be an upgrade in terms of the processor boost–but the 10.5 inch has never felt slow.
(Also, congratulate me for not making a single penis joke after typing out 10.5 inch so many times.)
My iPad mini, now over two years old, is suffering worsening battery life. It will run itself all the way down in just two days of idling, so I have to charge it every other day instead of just once a week. I’m not keen on having to replace it, but at least when I do I won’t be paying much more (or maybe not more at all if I wait for a sale), and I’ll be getting some nice improvements, as well.
Probably the dumbest move Apple has made recently in regards to the iPad is calling the second generation Apple Pencil…Apple Pencil. See this Verge article for more.