As far as Apple reveals go, yesterday's announcement falls squarely in the minor and iterative category. (For proof, look no further than its press-release/no-event delivery.) But we still have a few thoughts about how a cheaper 9.7-in iPad, the highlight of the day's announcements, could change things for the better.
The iPad has been in desperate need of a price drop for some time. That's part of the reason we weren't enamored with last year's move to raise the 9.7-in iPad starting price by US$100 – while slapping on the "Pro" suffix to distract from the fact that the 7th-generation 9.7-in iPad cost more than any of its predecessors, dating back to 2010. Apple being Apple, we didn't have much confidence that entry point would ever hit budget/price-competitive levels.
But the new model – simply called "iPad," just like the 2010 original – offers possibly the best iPad value yet. It has an A9 chip, which isn't current-gen but is still very fast (and is a generation better than the iPad Air 2's A8X). It does get a little thicker and heavier than the Air 2, but it also has a bigger battery inside and is nowhere near as big as the chunky iPads of old.
Starting at $329, the new iPad shows a penchant for competing on price that's uncharacteristic of Apple – especially if you look all the way back to the Steve Jobs Phase Two years, when Apple re-established itself as tech's luxury brand.
The new iPad also starts at the same price as the original iPad mini in late 2012, a product with a screen resolution that was obsolete from the day it launched. While it isn't a next-gen upgrade, the 2017 iPad doesn't compromise on size, screen quality or any other core pillars. It looks like a great middle ground for your non-tech-enthusiast shopper.
The one compromise compared to the Pro series is that it lacks the Smart Connector, which allows for an Apple-made snap-on keyboard. (It also doesn't support the more niche Apple Pencil.) Just remember that, having the same length and width, it should work just fine with iPad Air 1 and 2 Bluetooth keyboard covers (and possibly some cases) from third-party companies. That experience isn't radically different from using Apple's Smart Keyboard with an iPad Pro.
The announcement also shows Apple simplifying its iPad branding, which had gotten cluttered and confusing: With iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 and iPad mini brands scattered across the space, we can only imagine the repeated questions Apple Store employees got from casual shoppers. Now it's just iPad and iPad Pro, which clearly communicates standard vs. high-end. (The Mini 4 is still around, but is rarely featured: I'd guess the Mini lineup will soon be phased out for good, with large-screen phones making mini tablets all but obsolete.)
That branding also lines up nicely with the MacBooks: There's just plain "MacBook" and "MacBook Pro." The MacBook Air is still hanging around only as a "budget" option with last-gen specs: Like the iPad mini, its days are probably numbered.
Whether the cheaper iPad will spark a resurgence in tablet sales and interest is a question for another day. But it certainly can't hurt – and, most importantly, it gives customers a quality iPad option with pricing that more accurately reflects the current market. Now a $599+ iPad Pro is a little easier to swallow, as the high-end splurge option.
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